Morgan Gonzalves seems to have been built by the company responsible for the Thames Barrier. He has forearms like hams and a knife mounted on the end of a 2ft stick, slung, with some negligence, over his right shoulder. He also has a small dog that looks like a fluffy brown poodle. It is 10am and he is skipping like a mountain goat down the steep incline of the Tuscan forest we are in. He is concentrating like a man prospecting for gold, and in a sense he is doing just that, though for culinary gold: white truffles.
We are on the outer edges of the 500-hectare Villa Lena estate in Tuscany, near the village of Palaia. Perched atop a hill, it is here that Morgan works at night, as a barman mixing peach daiquiris and liberally dispensing the estate-made wine. But his passion lies in the earth and in the truffles within it.
Next week is an important time for men such as Gonzalves – and there are close to 1,500 with licenses in Tuscany, and a few more still without. It is 45 years since the San Miniato Truffle Festival came into being. Not only is it one of the best shopfronts in the world, it is also a bit of a knees-up for the hunters, with prizes awarded for the biggest truffle found and the oldest truffle hunter.