THE scene: five men playing cards in the village square. The clock tower booms, one strike. The metal sign says Oil. Truffles. Wine. The hilltown of Montone might be better known if there were not so many other hilltop towns on the borders of Tuscany and Umbria that reach out to tourists. Montone relatively is asleep, a few hotels, a garage, one third for sale, a metalworks, pedestrianized streets inside the ancient town walls, an uncompromising view down across the valley.
The old osteria is in the town square shaded by a red awning. Inside it is all bottles of wine, some even not from Italy, and glass bottles of things you can do with truffles. This time of year it is the summer truffle, November is the white. You are in truffle town, or one of them. (Nearby Citta di Castello has two truffle shops where you can buy the day’s gathering out of a big cardboard boxes. Plus a wonderful maceria in the centre Giulietti.)
It is not just a truffle menu but the very best dish maybe is the tarte tatin of local cannara onions, slow baked and served with a sauce of gorgonzola and truffle…it is not just the truffle they are proud of, the local onion cannara has its own festival in September. In fact they are so proud of them they serve them sweet and sour like this too…and broad beans are pureed to sauce the pasta with pancetta.
Humble pickings from the ground risen up to the plateau of high gastronomy as practiced and honed over centuries…the tomatoes are confit… in fact here there are more than a few French twists, like they have a sense of irony, that this is the proper way (I did ask nearby why the Italians called it a gin-and-tonic and was asked back what we call it in English?). This little salad was a delight of bringing things together, the walnuts caramelised, the apple sliced thin as paper, the salad so fresh, the ricotta fragilely soft.
Another French twist was tartar with the local Chianti beef of which everyone is also rightly very proud…A speciality here is also beef cooked on hot salt crystals.
There are the pastas as you might expect in terms of the papardelle or with a tomato and basil sauce… but also there was this stunning little olive green gnochi with mozzarella,tomato and basil that was more a graduated statement of Italian-ess. Just add sunshine.
We shared a dessert. They called it a millefeuille. But it was a bit short on 1,000 leaves, it was like an emancipated mille feuille, more creams than pastry… a triumph.
I was reading about a well known restaurant in Paris where every course seemed to rely on the grand luxe of caviar but the point here was making the utmost of the things around in the valley, often things we might take for granted, served with grace, humour and enjoyment. It was £20 a head including a few glasses of very good local wine. Yes it showcases the truffle but around here £2 buys you more than enough truffle to cover your scrambled eggs. They are just one thing to dig up…
L’Antica Osteria, 5/6 Piazza Fortebraccio, 06014 Montone, Italy
Tel +39.075.930.62.71 The web site is truffles but is not working this morning.