The Ultimate Guide to the 3 Best Italian Truffles

January 31, 2024

It’s that time of year again: ‘Tis the season not only on this side of the pond, but also in Bell’Italia, and there are festivals and happenings taking place in all corners of the Italian peninsula to celebrate the season – the Italian truffles harvest season, that is.

Italy’s most well-known harvest is of the 3,500 national grape varietals, but there are festivals celebrating all sorts of regional dishes, from apples, to olives to even the humble chestnut. Ironically, perhaps the most famous of all the harvest festivals in Italy is one that many Americans are not aware of at all – the festival of the Italian truffle.

The Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco, or the international White Truffle Festival, is held during the months of October and November in the Piemontese town of Alba and showcases what foodies consider the culinary equivalent of gold – the white truffle.

Far from the chocolate confection prevalent in the United States, Italian truffles are actually a fungus revered throughout Italy. They pop up in menus, shops, and even tours (think hide and go seek with mushrooms and dogs).

But what’s the story behind truffle mania? Are they seasonal? And how can you take part in the celebration? Here’s a beginner’s guide to truffles in Italy.

close up of white truffles and Italian truffle treat.

Truffles are delicious year-round. Photo credit: CHUTTERSNAP

What is a truffle? 

The tartufo (truffle in Italian) is a fungus, specifically of the genus Tuber (in fact, the word “truffle” is probably derived from the Latin word, tuber, meaning “hump” or “swelling”), and is found growing near the roots of trees.

Its intense and enticing aromas – and the fact that no one has cultivated truffles for over 100 years – make it one of the most esteemed and coveted foods in the world. Found most famously in Italy and France, truffles are either white, which is a more rare and more aromatic form, or black – slightly less aromatic and slightly more common.

A few years ago an Italian white Alba truffle weighing one and a half kilograms sold for $160,000. What the Hong Kong retail investor who bought it did with more than three pounds of truffle is anyone’s guess.

close up of Italian truffle cut in half.

Can you tell the difference between each Italian truffle? Photo credit: amirali mirhashemian


Long before there was Godiva, truffles were wooing civilizations all over the world. The ancient Egyptians ate these aromatic delicacies covered in goose fat, and Greek and Roman philosophers considered them mystical.

Although rarely mentioned in the Middle Ages, by the end of the second millennium, truffles had regained their seat upon the culinary throne and by the late 1800s the French had even managed to cultivate them.

Truffle fields, however, fell by the wayside with the Industrial Revolution and the devastating blow to land and population caused by the two World Wars. Today, truffles are mostly found in the wild with the help of animals. The French use pigs and sometimes hounds while Italian truffle dogs often belong to local hunting breeds like the Lagotto Romagnolo.

dog sniffing for Italian truffles in the forest.

Dogs and pigs have historically been used to find truffles. Photo credit: Andrea Cairone

Where can I find authentic Italian truffles?

Truffles are great year round, but especially in the Fall.  Luckily, there are many ways you can taste them if you visit, from participating in truffle hunting excursions, to eating local truffle dishes, and bringing pieces of that memory home.

Truffles are scattered about the tourist-trodden path in Italy – but how do you know what you’re getting is the “real deal?” It’s all about knowing a few key facts that will steer you in the right direction.

We’ve put together these facts to bring you a guide to Italian truffles, broken down by variety. Use it to determine if truffles are in season where you’ll be visiting, to discern if a dish is actually using the local variety, and even to impress your fellow traveling companions.

Black summer truffles in Italy.

Check out our tips on how to find authentic truffles. Photo credit: Big Dodzy

Italian white truffle

The most expensive and aromatic of truffles, the white truffle is prevalent in Piedmont – famously the town of Alba, where the International White Truffle Festival is held every year to honor the delicacy. The white truffle’s short season lasts from October to December and perhaps the most famous dish is made with the local egg pasta, tajarin.

If you’re in Alba during truffle season, be sure to stop by La Piola for an authentic Piemontese dinner of tajarin al tartufo, Piemontese beef, and a bottle of local winemaking superstar, Bruno Ceretto’s Barolo.

Truffles shaved on top of a plate of pasta

Truffles and pasta make the perfect Fall combination. Photo credit: Jaume Escofet

Italian black truffle

Also known as the Perigord truffle, the most revered of the black truffles are found in Umbria. Not surprisingly, then, that’s where you’ll also find the world’s most famous truffle company, Urbani Truffles.

Urbani’s headquarters are in Scheggino and house a fun museum that also offers truffle tours. Not making it to Umbria any time soon? Urbani also has offices in New York and offers truffle products on their site for purchase.

Plate of pasta and black Italian truffle.

Italian black truffles have a delicate taste and aroma. Photo credit: Sarah Stierch

Italian summer truffle

In season from March to November, this black truffle is found throughout central Italy, from Tuscany to Le Marche. During this relatively long season, visitors can join truffle hunts and enjoy shaved black truffles on everything imaginable.

Try black truffles on top of beef carpaccio or shaved over local pasta in Cortona’s cozy Trattoria Toscana or Il Cipresso (Via 1 Setteponti, 30) in Loro Ciuffenna.

Risotto dish with truffles.

Truffles are versatile, but taste best with pasta, rice, and potatoes. Photo credit: Kurman Communications LLC

Things to keep in mind

Beware of the ubiquitous truffle shop however – besides high quality products such as Urbani, many of these touristy souvenirs are about as authentic as the mini plastic Colosseums you’ll find on the streets in Rome during the summer and barely contain any of the real stuff.

Buying fresh Italian truffles can be a fraught process requiring a fair amount of esoteric knowledge. The best way to eat them fresh as a visitor to Italy is to either attend a truffle festival, or order them during the fall in restaurants that will often have them as a special. Truffle oil is also a delightful way to take a bit of that magical aroma home with you.

A glass bottle filled with truffle oil.

Don’t forget to grab a bottle of truffle oil to bring back as a souvenir. Photo credit: Addilyn Ragsdill

Update Notice: This post was updated on January 31, 2024.

by Martina Zuccarello

View more by Martina ›

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