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From Tourists to Truffles: A Trip to Pisa and San Miniato

From Tourists to Truffles: A Trip to Pisa and San Miniato

It’s funny how diverse Italy can be. One minute you’re standing in front of the Colosseum and by simply turning a few streets you can end up in a tiny little restaurant where the food is authentic and no one speaks English. And that’s how all of Italy is. One second you find yourself in the middle of a tourist trap and the next second you’re in the heart of Italian culture. It was because of this that my trip to Pisa and San Miniato, a tiny town about 30 minutes away from Pisa, was so exciting.

Pisa was beautiful. We shamelessly took a million pictures in front of the tower to get just the right one before climbing up to the top. The view over the city was breathtaking and terrifying (thank God for the huge fence around the top!) After climbing back down and seeing the Duomo (it’s starting to seem like EVERY town in Italy has a Duomo!) we headed back to the train station to make our way to San Miniato.

Let me explain why we were heading to San Miniato. In Italy, towns hold these festivals called Sagras, which are seasonally based around the food of the town of region that they’re hosted in. I had been dying to go to one since arriving in Italy, being the foodie that I am. So when we decided to go to Pisa we thought going to a sagra nearby would be a fun way to get out of our comfort zone and see a more authentic side of Italy. A quick Google search later and we had our destination: The San Miniato Truffle (tartufo in Italian) Sagra.

The San Miniato Sagra is centered mostly around the white truffle, which is grown in the region. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia definition:  The “white truffle” or “Alba madonna” (Tuber magnatum)can also be found in Italy in Molise and in the hills around San Miniato, in Tuscany. Growing symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech and fruiting in autumn, they can reach 12 cm diameter and 500 g, though are usually much smaller. The flesh is pale cream or brown with white marbling. Italian white truffles are very highly esteemed and are the most valuable on the market.

So, needless to say, we were very excited to try these amazing truffles. When we arrived in San Miniato we were surprised with what we found. We left the train station and walked into a deserted town. After hopping into a tabacchi and asking about the sagra (in broken Italian) he told us to get on a bus and the driver would take us there. Understand, we’re not even sure if we translated what he said correctly. For all we know he could have told us, “Take this bus to the middle of Tuscany and go work on a pig farm for a week.” But, in the spirit of adventure, we hopped on the bus and trusted that we would end up someplace interesting.

The bus took us up the side of a mountain into the old part of town. The streets were packed. Everyone from the town was there and the roads were lined with people chatting in Italian, children running around, and men walking by with huge wheels of cheese (you can’t make this stuff up). The fact that an hour before we had been in one of the most well known cities in Italy and suddenly were in the middle of this tiny town where no one spoke any English was the coolest thing ever. It challenged us to use everything we had been learning in Italian 101 and fully immerse ourselves into the culture and feel of the town.

Through the town there were huge tents set up with vendors inside selling truffle infused EVERYTHING. Truffle infused meat, truffle infused olive oil, cheese, spread, and even wine! All the vendors were giving out samples and we were able to sample our way through the town. Soooooo delicious! Every stand was donned with boar heads, wheels of cheese, huge blocks of chocolate, and literally barrels of wine. By the end of the night we were stuffed with amazing food and a feeling of closeness and authenticity that you can’t get in a big city. I would have to say that San Miniato was one of my favorite trips this semester, and I am DEFINITELY putting it on my list for possible locations for my future villa in Tuscany!

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