Through continued investment of love, passion and education in the craft of truffle hunting, the company is now a valuable resource to both the local community and the global market. Despite being in an industry that is still based around techniques used 2000 years ago, Urbani has steadily produced new ideas and innovations –such as the famed Urbani Accademia, a learning center for chefs and truffle lovers alike – in order to maintain ownership of a staggering 70% of the world’s truffle production. Olga Urbani, the current owner and manager, has played a role in the business since she was a baby. Olga shares what it takes to balance running a family-owned local business with an international company reaching over 65 countries.
Mood of Living Q&A
Mood of Living: Your grandfather, Carlo Urbani, founded the company over a century ago. What do you remember about your grandfather’s passion for truffles?
Olga Urbani: I remember that the only mission of his life was truffles, and bringing the Urbani name all over.
MoL: Why did your grandfather choose Perugia?
OU: He was born here, as was his father and his grandfather. They wanted to make a business out of something that they used to hunt in this region.
MoL: How important is the local environment and location of your factory/harvesting grounds?
OU: It is VERY important since it is our land that produces the truffles…and the people, our people who are our “great family of truffles” and are truffle hunters, truffle lovers, and truffle experts.
MoL: How did growing up in the family business and around truffles influence who you are?
OU: It was hard mainly because I am a woman, and in Italy there still is an old mentality.
MoL: Did you always want to work in the family truffle business or did you ever want to do something different?
OU: I wanted to be a writer; I am a dreamer, but there was no choice.
Urbani farm through the generations.
MoL: What are the challenges of preserving your family’s tradition in today’s market?
OU: My idea has always been to make the Urbani name more and more prestigious in the world, much more than money.
MoL: What are some of your day-to-day challenges overseeing an international business?
OU: Opening new Urbani Truffles Companies in many foreign countries and creating new ideas of marketing my products. I like new ideas, and with my family being so much in love with what we do, we continuously come up with new business, new companies, new products.
MoL: Can you speak a bit about the tradition of truffles in regards to the history of the company?
OU: The most beautiful thing I love to say is that if you want a truffle, you still do the same thing you did 2000 years ago. Without a dog or a pig, you will never hunt truffles, both now and so many years ago. It’s magic!
MoL: How do you give back to and interact with your community?
OU: We are very much involved! Urbani is the only company in this valley and all the people work for us. We protect our people, we love them, and we care for them.
MoL: How many truffle hunters work for you, and how many dogs do you use?
OU: There are 100,000 truffle hunters in Italy and many more throughout Europe, so we use freelancers. They only sell us truffles if they like us!
The truffle hunt.
MoL: Though they used to use pigs for truffle hunting, recent years have seen a shift to using dogs – why is this?
OU: Can you imagine having to carry a pig in your car to go truffle hunting in the mountain? No way!
MoL: Is there a special relationship between the truffle hunter and the dog?
OU: For a truffle hunter, his dog is the number one member of the family!
MoL: How do they train the dogs to hunt for truffles?
OU: With love and little cookies. A good truffle dog is intelligent; they immediately get the message that truffles must be given to the hunter and never eaten. A truffle dog can typically find up to one pound of truffles in an hour.
MoL: Have you seen the industry change?
OU: It changes every day! We are so full of passion and enthusiasm. We export more than 600 truffle products to 68 countries in the world.
MoL: Has climate change affected truffle production?
OU: If it is too hot during the summer with no rain, we won’t get any truffles.
MoL: Let’s talk a bit about the production process at Urbani. Where and how do truffles grow?
OU: All over Italy! They are near the oak trees, willow trees, nut trees, and near the rivers. But we also have a new company called “Truffleland” that sells truffle trees. We inject the spores of truffles into the roots of these trees, then we plant the trees outside and help the natural production.
The production of truffle into new products.
MoL: Once the truffles are picked and go to your factory, what happens next?
OU: About 50% are sold fresh. The rest are turned into 600 different truffle products: truffle pasta, truffle salt, truffle olive oil, truffle french fries, and even truffle chocolate.
MoL: What innovations are Urbani making in its field?
OU: We invent the future of truffles every day, never forgetting our humble beginnings. We created the Accademia, the Museum, the Truffle Lab, truffle bars, restaurants, and so much more.
MoL: You mentioned the Accademia; what exactly is the Truffle Academy, and what was the inspiration behind this?
OU: The Truffle Academy is a gastronomic center where everyone brings together their own knowledge and expertise about truffles. It is where new Urbani products are born, using the chefs’ creativity, new food technologies and techniques, and a careful observation of the market. It’s the first of its kind in the world.
Urbani Truffle Academy hosts international culinary events and cultural soirees that showcase the art of cooking truffle. There is a truffle lab where chefs experiment and invent truffle-based culinary delights. It is the ideal place for those who want to know about the history, origins, and possibilities of using truffles.
Urbani Truffle Accademia
MoL: What is your commitment to sustainability for the future?
OU: Truffles are organic naturally and they are so healthy; we try to defend this precious product and do as much as possible to increase natural production.
MoL: What do you think has most contributed to the longevity and global success of Urbani?
OU: The idea that the Urbani Company does not belong to us but rather to the territory, to our people, and to the richness of our country. We know that the first rule is respect for one another and we are all very close, well aware of our great responsibility through the company itself, through Umbria, and through everyone involved.
MoL: There has been some controversy surrounding the use of Chinese truffles instead of the higher quality ones; can you discuss this a bit?
OU: Chinese truffles are very “dangerous”; they look the same as the very expensive ones, but to really understand how fake they are, you have to eat them. They taste terrible.
MoL: How can an average person eating in a restaurant tell if they’re getting authentic truffles or lower-quality versions?
OU: The taste of a good truffle is unique, strong, intense. The parfum is strong. If you don’t taste all this, there must be something wrong.
MoL: Where do you look for inspiration in your personal life?
OU: In the human relationship; in the people who give me love, and in the people who trust me.
A family business: Olga and her grandfather.
MoL: Do you entertain? Do you yourself cook?
OU: Very much; but not for VIP, only for people I love. I am a very passionate truffle chef. My guests can say if I’m good or not!
MoL: What is your favorite scent?
OU: Truffles of course! As a personal scent, I love Giorgio Armani’s Eau D’Encens. It’s fantastic.
MoL: What music inspires you?
OU: Maria Callas is my passion, and I love opera (specifically La Boheme).
MoL: Do you have a signature style?
OU: I love Chanel. I love my colors: black and white.
MoL: Do you have a favorite quote?
OU: “Less is more, happiness is the goal.”
Olga and her father Paolo.
MoL: Who has been an influential figure in your life?
OU: My father.
MoL: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
OU: From him, actually: the real richness in life is the good you do for others.
MoL: Are you continuing your father’s commitment to philanthropy?
OU: I created a medical foundation, alongside the father of my two children, Luca and Francesco. It is a non-profit that helps people with no money who have cancer.
MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind and spirit?
OU: I love sailing. I love the movement of the water; my house is called the river house because it is built near a river, and this place is my happiness.
Olga’s home in Umbria, Italy.
Guests enjoy a tour of the Urbani farm and factory.
Twitter: Urbani Truffles
Facebook: Urbani Truffles
Pinterest: Urbani Truffles