What is it like to be born into one of the most well known truffle cultivating families in Italy?
I spoke with Vanda Angellozzi, 26 years old and the youngest female following in the footsteps of five generations of truffle expertise.
I asked if it was hard to decide to devote her life to the family business and history.
"You know, it wasn't really a choice," Vanda says. "I just slid into this role. I have an outgoing personality and I love to travel and I enjoying fine dining. My work offers the opportunity to travel around the world and meet fascinating people, as well as using English, so I was drawn to it."
Vanda is the first in her family to speak English, after having studied in London and Edinburg for several years. While studying she had no idea how she would use her language skills.
From a village in the mountain foothills of Central Italy, she is moving to NYC to meet the new challenges of the truffle market today.
"Let me be clear," she says, "I'm able to do this because more than twenty years ago my father and his brother realized the importance of exporting our truffles. If you think, in the 1970's this was unheard of and a risk. At that time the economy was booming and everyone was leaving the land, looking for high paid jobs. Who would want the hard work and uncertainty of truffle cultivation, when there were many 'better' opportunities? But our family has always worked solely with truffles. We have a personal relationship spanning twenty years with our clients, globally. They trust the quality and the ethics of our cultivation methods."
And trust is crucial in the truffle business.
Vanda is a true truffle heiress since she has inherited a life and an identity utterly bound to the truffle.
As she says, everything they own, everything they do, and who they are as a family is a result of five generation of working with truffles. This is important because, as Vanda explains, there's growing competition within truffle sales and many 'new' countries approach truffles as a get-rich-fast business. This can lead to unscrupulous cultivation techniques and the production of artificial sauces and fake truffle oils. These sauces generally have less than 3% truffle content (Fioravanti, 2015, Piceno Terra di Tartufi). Under the harmless word 'aroma' on the label, are two chemicals making a pungent taste, and this causes Vanda to despair.
"It's sickening. I don't know how people can sell these products. Truffles are a lifestyle. Not a fad. Generations of experience and innovations, evolve together with the health of the environment. It's a way of living and caring about the quality of your work and the land," she explains.
Indeed Italy has a history of harvesting and eating truffles dating back to the Romans and the ancient Greeks. As Hall et al. in Taming the Truffle (2007) tell us, the earliest truffle recipes that we have record of are from Imperial Rome.
(Vanda while representing truffles in China)
Vanda's family http://www.angellozzi.itmade the transition from hunting truffles in the wild to cultivation several generations ago and they are internationally recognized for developing new techniques, such as the Bonsai style of pruning. Now they are working on two prototypes with machinery manufacturer, Rinieri, in Forlì-Emilia Romagna, http://www.rinieri.com to invent the first dedicated truffle cultivation equipment.
How does she feel about moving to New York City?
"When you are young, you know, that's the time to try new things. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try and see what I can do. I love meeting new people and going out. I love talking with Michelin star chiefs. It's a sociable business. I really enjoy speaking English and learning languages, so it's exciting."
At 21, her first exposure representing truffles was being flow to the Philippines for a high profile state dinner, where she addressed a group of journalists in English, speaking publicly for the first time. Now, five years later, she's settled into the role.
Can she see herself still doing this in 20 years time?
"Why not?" Vanda replies. "I'll be 46 then... This work combines everything I love. And I hope more young people will get involved in truffle cultivation. I hope more people will invest in mountains and appreciate them."
Mountains provide the best soil, environmental health and climate conditions to produce the highest quality truffles. Truffle cultivation is a complex profession with scope for young people with a large range of interests.
Now this ancient Italian tradition grows in young hands.
(At home Vanda at work in the truffle plantation)