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Wild Foods Italy, Pettino. Erasing the snobbery truffles exude with a family of truffle hunters

In the Umbrian village of Pettino, at the Chiacchiarini family farm, truffle dogs and sheep remain companions for the day. In conversation with the founder of Wild Foods Italy

Wild Foods Italy history 

Nathan (Mac) fell in love with Francesca and the way of life in Pettino. He, therefore, decided to stay and never meant to leave. He and his wife saw the potential of the farm and the opportunity to make it grow. They started running the estate and they ideated the birth of Wild Foods Italy, centuries of experience handed down through the family.

According to Mac, «being a farm means work, it takes time and years hunting for truffles and the sheep». To keep the farm, they wake up at 5.30am. «One of the perks of living in a village is that we have the freedom to organize our day, working or not. We get to take in the environment, the view of the mountains and hills with their changing colours every season. Being isolated allows us to work together with the family».

The majority of their visitors are foreigners, from North America. They come for the Wild Foods Truffle Hunt experience. «Truffle hunting is an age-old job, handed down from generation to generation. People start at a young age. Francesca’s cousins have been hunting truffles since they were children. They hunt every day, during the season and when not in season. Being from New Zealand, I wanted to share it with people from other parts of the world and introduce them to this life. The ordeal with truffle hunting is that we have to be ourselves. This way visitors get a glimpse into the way we live and observe our daily routine. We erase the snobbery truffles exude».

Lampoon review: Umbrian truffle production

Due to the combination of soil and climate, Umbria produces a number of black truffles in Italy. Throughout the year, one can find a variety of truffles harvested in Umbria. But summer is for truffle hunting. «The weather plays a role in the quality of truffles. Here they have been growing for hundreds of years and we do not have truffle plantations. In the US they say, a quality truffle is big and aromatized, but this does not hold true. The flavours and the smell is what one must look out for».

When it comes to categorizing truffles, Mac tells us that the result of a truffle depends on the trees in its surrounding. As for the role of the dogs in truffle hunting, Mac explains, they are a fundamental part of their lives. «Truffle hunting dogs, wolf chasing dogs, sheep herding dogs and pet dogs – we need them to survive. We train truffle dogs, and when they go hunting, we trick them with biscuits. For them it is like a game in which truffles get involved. When they match the scent of a truffle and find it, you give them a snack. So you get the truffle and they get the biscuit. A dog who does not learn to hunt is uncommon» says Mac. «At the farm our dogs are looked after. We have a close relationship with them. When they get injured, we nurture them back to health. When they turn old, it is the dogs that tell us it is time to retire. We hunt on a daily basis. If a dog decides he does not want to hunt on a given day, we let him retire»

Wild Foods Italy is in partnership with Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti, based in Biella

A day in Pettino village at Wild Foods Italy

Guests who spend the day in Pettino are consumed with the village and explore the Apennine Mountains in search of truffles or visit the sheep while tasting pecorino cheese with Prosecco. The experience starts in the barn where the sheep are milked twice a day. One is welcome to give it a try. It is a way to understand the health and well-being of the flock. Then, there is a visit to the nine-hundred-year-old cheese aging room, where guests can witness the process and tasting of cheeses from two months to over a year old.

The truffle hunt starts from the mountain village of Pettino. Dogs lead the way and guests follow them, in order to witness the sniffing-out of truffles. Stopping at a spot in the hills, you can experience the first taste of a dug truffle savored with a glass or two of Prosecco. The shepherd, flock of sheep and the wolf-chasing dogs join for company on occasion. After a truffle hunting adventure, strolling the countryside with the truffle hunter and the dogs, guests return to the farm for a mid-day meal.

The Black Truffle Lodge

Luca and Alessandro, the truffle hunters, light up the barbecue and prepare sausages for lunch or dinner, as well as wood-fired bruschetta with olive oil made in-house to taste. Guests can also savor the family’s culinary delicacies, from salami and prosciutto to dishes like pasta with truffles or pesto by Francesca. Giovanna (Nonna Giuseppina), Francesca’s grandmother, has inherited the family recipe of making pasta. She specializes in gnocchi while Francesca is adept at tagliatelle. Guests also have the opportunity to contribute in the kitchen while preparing the meal. In this way, techniques handed down over the centuries are revealed.

In 2016 Mac and Francesca opened The Black Truffle Lodge, an accommodation made of two suites equipped with a jacuzzi. A rack of local wine, Prosecco, and cuts from cured meats – salami or capocollo – characterize the suite. «At a point we realized that the experience we were offering was not restrained to truffles or food» reveals Mac. «We opened The Black Truffle Lodge due to the number of people visiting us. We, therefore, decided to create a couple of lodges for limited guests. We wanted to provide a rustic place, to familiarize the rawness of the farm with the comfort of the lodge». Mac continues. «From the lodge looking down the valley, they have a view. Patrons can have a stroll in the village and immerse themselves in the Umbrian world».

Wild Foods Italy’s partnership with Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti

At Wild Foods Italy – apart from offering truffle hunting and culinary experiences – they partake in the production of wool in partnership with Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti, a company based in Biella, Piedmont, that deals in the production of wool processing and wool clothing. «The family has Sopravissana sheep, one of the two varieties of wool growing sheep in Italy. Francesca’s grandfather used that breed of sheep, and I, coming from New Zealand, my grandfather had sheep. We have been working on a program to grow quality wool in Italy. With Fratelli Cerruti we found common ground. It was about wool, but entails delivering something pure, revealing the source, uniting two traditions».

«Lanificio Cerruti are craftsmen by tradition and make fabrics. Here we have a tradition of growing quality sheep. We wanted to tell the story of people living in a contemporary world with traditional businesses. People can follow every step of the production and learn where the materials come from and understand the story of the people involved».

Wild Foods Italy actively partakes in collaborations that look to reduce the environmental impact. «Having a small-scale business, it is natural for us to have a low-environmental impact». Due to Covid-19, no tourists came to visit, as most of their guests arrive from overseas countries. «During the lockdown we took advantage of the time we had to think about projects in development. We had time to do what we had been procrastinating – building structures for the sheep». Thinking about new projects is part of their DNA. They, in fact, have ideas they would like to work on and partnerships they plan to build.

Wild Foods Italy

Via di Pettino, 91, Pettino, Umbria, Italy
Wild Foods Italy is a farm in the Umbrian Region, in Italy. Founded by New Zealander, Nathan McMillan Ryde – who has been living in Italy for over twenty years – and his Italian wife Francesca Chiacchiarini, whose family is from Pettino, and has been living here for hundreds of years, dating back to 1486 when they bought the land.

Alessia Tu

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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