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A secret truffle weekend in Tuscany

Jenke didn’t have the faintest idea ... he only knew that we would fly somewhere for his birthday. Even at the airport he was a good boy, his eyes stuck to the floor, blocking his ears every time an announcements was made. The other passengers were slightly puzzled by watching him - but we didn’t care. After touchdown I could already see the name of the airport in big glowing letters above the terminal building, Jenke kept his eyes to on the floor. Of course I could not stand it at some point and told him in the arrivals area in which city we were and I still think he must have already guessed it. (After all, everyone spoke to us only ONE language - Italian). We had landed in Pisa.
True to style, I had rented a Fiat 500 which took us for about 40 minutes further east right into the Tuscan hills. Where the landscape, the houses, the people, the food really without exception all look like from an image campaign. Finally arrives in San Miniato, the heart of the white truffle - for a truffle weekend. The French philosopher Brillat Savarin once wrote: "The truffle makes women more tender and men more amiable." Well, let’s see. San Miniato itself is very small, medieval houses line the streets and an old castle is perched on the highest point. San Minitao joined Cittaslow - a movement to decelerate for improving life quality. But the people here don’t even need the Marketing signs we saw: naturally everything here is slower, calmer, more relaxed.
We arrived quite late in our hostel: the Agritourismo Marrucola. Enzo, the owner, an Italian with Ethiopian roots, greeted us warmly - with little English, but with plenty of charm. The rooms were functional and simply furnished, but very spacious on two floors. Enzo also produces excellent organic wine. The Marrucola has a large pool, twith a real view to kill: the beautiful, nearly surreal Tuscan hills, covered with forests, vineyards, fields, and the obligatory cypress tree, just like a cliché. Normally guests have dinner here at night with Enzo and the other guests. However, I have been planning for something special and so we went to the heart of San Miniato.
The restaurant Pepenero was our first stop; Jenke still didn’t what I have been planning. From the outside you can miss the entrance; it goes down a flight of stairs – where you find yourself in very stylish, bright and modern cellars. Pepenero is offering a couple of different three of four course dinners. As we arrived quite late, our appetite wasn’t big enough so we opted for some "à la carte" dishes. We started with a tender Angus Carpaccio with white truffles. It turned out to be the best we ever had:  Fine and elegant taste and texture, deliciously gorgeous. Then there was home-made pasta, of course also with white truffles. Like a perfect dream. Actually, we were already stuffed, but the Fagioli, the specialty of the region, white beans, served with truffles, of course had made us curious. So we had that too. Shortly before midnight, the nice waiter messed up the surprise and brought out the birthday cake. Stupido. Well it was of course quite funny too. Happy early birthday Jenke! The Vin Santo, the holy sweet dessert wine of the region made us happy again. Auguri!
The breakfast on the next morning was rather tiny and unspectacular so we decided to look for a Cornetto and an Espresso in the village.  Then the next surprise for Jenke: Christina arrived, the friendly staff of Entroterra where I had booked the whole trip. Jenke still had no idea how it should go further. He was shocked when suddenly a scooter and two helmets appeared. Grinning, speechless he hopped on the Vespa, a small road book on a clipboard showed us the way, I sat behind him. And off we went. Jenke smiled like a child. We rattled through the streets and were happy. We came to a stop right behind the last house of San Miniato, a few minutes later met a man with a dog, an finally Jenke knew what we were up to: we were to go on a truffle hunt. His permanent smile was worth the effort! Once in the oak forest, we learned: the season was too dry – too dry for truffles. But the truffle hunter and his dog were born men of action and showed us a perfect demonstration. He had prepared those little yellow Kinder Surprise eggs with truffles, he told the dog to sit and wait while he hid them in the woods After being told so the dog ran like wild into the bushes and found them all. Very funny. The white truffle of San Miniato is world renowned. The largest truffle, which was ever found here weighed 2520 grams. Our proud truffle hunter, who is a psychologist during daytime could find a total of only 350 grams this year. But although we didn’t find any truffle, we had fun and that permanent smile on Jenke’s face remained. Auguri!
The sun was shining, the scenery around us was feudal and slowly our stomachs growled. There was already a reservation for us at Il Convio, a pretty restaurant tucked away in the green valley close to San Miniato. At first we thought we might have landed in tourist trap: but soon the place filled with local families and soon it was clear we were the only tourists here. The starter – a variation of local antipasti pickled vegetables, crispy bruschetta, ham, sausage, mushrooms and truffle cream- was to die for. After that, we could not help it (what can you do?) and again had a truffle pasta. You only live once, auguri!
We had heard that the tiny mountain village of Balconovese was holding a truffle festival on that weekend. The entrance to the village was already blocked off for cars, but luckily our scooter was allowed to go up. The sight that caught our eyes when coming closer was like in Italian movies: in a tiny village square a few tents and a small stage have been set up. A sound check was on. A bunch of really old men and two not so young women played and sang awfully wrong but they had lots of fun and the ladies gallantly swung their hips as once Anni-Frida and Agnetha of ABBAa. It was eerily beautiful. On the only and short street of the village,  a few Italian mamas sold what came out of the ovens in the backyards, and small village children loitered macho cool on the bench at the playground. Auguri!
In the evening we were finally supposed to have dinner at our hostel Marrucola. However, when entering the dinner room the entire place (except one table) was brightly decorated and quickly invaded by a few very loud teenagers. This obviously was the 18-year-old birthday bash of a girl from San Miniato. When the Congratulator arrived, loud music started and we have to confess:  we lost patience. This wasn’t what Jenke’s birthday should be like. Fair enough, Enzo understood the plight and was the perfect host. He took us quickly into the village to a (or his, we have not quite understood) Ristorante, the Ristorante Accademia da Michele. Admittedly, at first we were skeptical, but Michele, the landlord and his tea reconciled us with the following: Fiori di zucca fritti first, then for Madame homemade pasta, for Jenke a tender Bistecca tagliata. And because it was so cute and so delicious, we could still persuade our minds to a dessert. The juicy, very rich, too good to be true cake from was really excellent.  As it turned out later, Michele did not speak the language of food but also a decent German. Because he  - we couldn’t believe our ears - once had a love affair in Cologne. The world is a village. The world is San Miniato. What a beautiful evening. Brillat-Savarin was right! Auguri!
The next day we would actually have had a wine tasting. But in the firm belief, that we have already got the best wine in the village from Enzo, we checked out and drove the half hour to Florence. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the Fiat 500 wanted to be driven. From Florence we both knew little. I was briefly on a business trip there, but it had only managed to eat some ice cream before I had to return to the airport. Florence, as far as we know now, is packed. And without any preparation the city is hardly bearable. Tourists everywhere, long waiting lines in front of the interesting highlights of the city; the Ponte Vecchio is like a Sunday in Disneyland. We should have known better. Next time, we will be smarter and do some research.