Sometimes in life I feel very privileged. I get to embrace occasions that most people do not have the opportunity to experience and it is nothing to do with money. I just happen to have some very dear friends who know some very interesting people. On a recent trip to Andy and Amy’s in Umbria, Italy there were 3 such occurrences. You may have read my report on truffle hunting or my visit to an underground ricotta and pecorino cheesemaker but I have saved the best for last. This may have been a one-off, once-in-a-lifetime event that I feel very privileged to have been invited to. It was the end of season Hunter’s Dinner. At this point you may well conjur up images of a Grand Hotel in Rome with a 3-star Michelin chef and everyone in black tie. This would luckily be very far removed from the truth.
The dinner was held at Andy and Amy’s neighbours (they live in the countryside) literally a 100m walk away. Their neighbours, Paolo & his father Mario, host this annual ‘men only’ dinner for a select group of hunting chums. With professions ranged from architects to tradesman it is a diverse bunch but united by a passion for hunting as has been practiced in this region for centuries. Each is licensed and adheres to strict quotas with stringent regulations which are in place to ensure no over hunting but also to cull the wild population which otherwise would run out of control. They are not hunting for sport – they are hunting for food.
Andy and I had ventured down earlier in the day to meet with Paolo, who was doing a lot of the preparation. I wanted to take some portraits of him with my Hasselblad having carried it all the way from the UK along with my Nikon gear. After entering the house Paolo showed me just a tiny proportion of the truffles we would be consuming that evening. Through translation it appeared that we would each have at least 2 decent sized examples of this most elusive and expensive tuber served to us. I am a huge truffle fan so this ignited my taste buds with anticipation bordering on the extreme.
My portraits of Paolo taken on my Hasselblad 500c/m
Three hours later Andy and I repeated the 2 minute journey, this time weighed down ever so slightly with a couple of bottles of wine. Nothing special, just normal everyday red, consistent with the non pretentious atmosphere that would encase the dinner. We wore jeans and old tops, anything more would have been overkill. This was an occasion for dressing down, copious amounts of laughter, wine and food. In fact it transpired that so much food was going to be served that it would be hard to move afterwards.
Walking into the house my first impression was authenticity. The light was low as if lit by multiple candles, early arrivers already a couple of glasses in, homemade pasta laid out, bowls of pate being spread onto sliced bread, a cauldron heated by gas on the floor to cook the pasta, a birds beak sticking out from one of the dishes. This was the real deal, a proper celebration between friends with no pomp. Just as it might have been 100 years ago.
I am not going to go into every dish as this was a long evening and menu as you can see below.
Baby peppers stuffed with tuna
Baby peppers with pancetta grilled with chickpeas
Bread with woodcock
Bread with “normal” meat
Chilli peppers with cheese
Deer liver and tomato ragout with homemade bread rolls
Handmade tagliatelle with black and white truffles
Pasta with wild hare sauce
Porcupine, Roe Deer and and Wild Boar grilled meat selection
Stewed Song Thrush
Cakes, Grappa, Coffee and lots of wine throughout.
This was an outstanding dinner. Rarely have I witnessed such merriment all night long with wine flowing, songs never ceasing, food coming in abundance and everyone simply so relaxed and happy. I was made the guest of honour so had extra portions bestowed upon me. In any ordinary life just the single dish of pasta with truffles would have been enough for dinner let alone 2 in addition to all the rest. The sheer amount of truffles was beyond belief. It was probably more than is used in the whole of central London in a week! I would hate to put a value on them but it would be inconsequential anyhow. Truffle hunting is what they do and it is simple a way of life for them. How wonderful is that?
The truffles as you will have guessed was a highlight for me along with the deer liver ragout. I was introduced to two new meats during the dinner which I presume you can probably guess as Porcupine and Song Thrush. Both were very tasty I am pleased to report back but cannot give you any more information than that as too much wine had been consumed by that stage.
The evening ended by a few of the mens’ wives arriving to join us for coffee and cakes which was lovely. A bottle of grappa like spirit also materialised which I recall enjoying just a little too much and having far more than my self imposed allowance. It was the perfect ending to an excellent meal.