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Where Chefs Go: Basilicata, Italy

Chef Rudy Accornero visits during the region’s white truffle season, running from September through December.
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At the 14-seat Oak Tuscan Truffle Lounge in New York City’s West Village, chef/owner Rudy Accornero and his partner, Svetlana Voloshyna, top every dish with 10 grams of truffles, a fact that caught local attention when it opened in mid-August. “I was in the truffle business for a long time, selling them to private clients,” says Accornero. “After a while, my partner and I thought, ‘why not open a little restaurant in New York where we showcase them?’”

Born in Rome, Accornero has lived between New York and Italy for the last decade, making truffle selection and acquisition his geographical priority, which means he travels quite a bit. At the end of September, his compass points to Tuscany and Basilicata to select his fill of white truffles during its season, which runs from September through December. “White truffles have a very, very strong aroma,” he says, “but a very delicate flavor. They’re perfect on eggs, tartare, fish or pasta. The steam from the pasta brings the smell right to your nose.”

Every September, chef Rudy Accornero heads to Tuscany and Basilicata to get his fill of truffles. (Photo courtesy of chef Rudy Accornero, taken at his home in Rome.)
Every September, chef Rudy Accornero heads to Tuscany and Basilicata to get his fill of truffles. (Photo courtesy of chef Rudy Accornero, taken at his home in Rome.)
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“Black summer truffles are the lightest in flavor,” Accornero says. “Black winter truffles are perfect on meat and greasy food—like burgers or filet mignon—because of the strong flavor and a little less aroma.”

If you decide to visit the Basilicata region during white truffle season as Accornero suggests, you can expect to find the truffles in a variety of shapes. “White truffles are changing over the years,” he explains, “they’re more flat, not always so round.” In Accornero’s opinion, the best of the white truffles pop out of the ground at the end of September or the first week of October. “A lot of chefs pick them before they’re mature. I want them only when they’re ready. It’s a short frame. The temperature, soil, and humidity all need to be right. Truffles need steady rain.”

Thirty years ago, if you asked chefs for white truffles, they’d point you to the north of Italy. “Everyone went to Alba for white truffles,” says Accornero. “They thought they were only there.” He explains how the soil in Alba got “completely destroyed” based on over-cultivation. “Now probably only about one percent of truffles come from Alba, but many exporters still claim [that] their truffles come from there. That’s often not true.”

The nine-room Palazzo Margherita is situated in the town of Bernalda in the Serrapotamo Valley. (Photo by Gundolf Pfotenhauer.)
The nine-room Palazzo Margherita is situated in the town of Bernalda in the Serrapotamo Valley. (Photo by Gundolf Pfotenhauer.)
Nowadays, the best white truffles have come from Basilicata, the lush region of forests and mountains in Southern Italy between Campania and Calabria known locally as Lucania. Located above the arch of Italy’s boot, the area has attracted chefs and hoteliers like Francis Ford Coppola, whose nine-room hotel Palazzo Margherita is situated in his grandfather’s hometown of Bernalda in the Serrapotamo Valley. (The first white truffles of the season arrived there in late August.)

To get to Basilicata, rent a car from Naples Airport and drive two hours inland, passing Vesuvio and Salerno on the way. For lodging, Accornero suggests staying at the farmhouse La Dimora dei Cavaleiri near Potenzo or the L’Incanto or Aquatio Hotel in Matera.

Boasting gorgeous views, chef Accornero recommends staying at L’Incanto. (Photo courtesy of L'Incanto's website.)
Boasting gorgeous views, chef Accornero recommends staying at L’Incanto. (Photo courtesy of L'Incanto's website.)
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Once settled in, he recommends visiting a pastry maker named Vincenzo Tiri at his historical shop Tiri 1957 in the town of Acerenza, where he makes panettone that is known throughout Basilicata. For a typical traditional trattoria, Accornero praises La Locandiera in Metaponto, a small town of only 1,000 people in the Matera province. Also in the area is Baccanti, nestled into stone walls with traditional peasant food as their specialty, as well as a more modernly outfitted restaurant called Ego.

Another worthwhile visit is to the town of Castelmezzano, where a restaurant called Al Becco della Civetta features an outdoor terrace to dine on a lengthy meal of lamb pastas, dried peppers and local wines all while viewing the Lucanian Dolomites.

In addition to these, Accornero recommends following your nose when in Basilicata. “You can’t really go wrong,” he says. “It’s one of those places.”
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