The Perfect Day of Truffle Mania in Alba
The Perfect Day of Truffle Mania in Alba
If you are in Italy between October 6th and November 25th and are fond of truffles, stop by Alba. This charming town is in the heart of the UNESCO Human Heritage hilly area of Langhe, and is also the headquarters for the confectionery group Ferrero.
The 88th International White Truffle Fair From Land To Moon is a unique opportunity to enjoy an overdose of the delicious and precious ectomycorrhizal fungi, that are found close to tree roots. At the Fair, culture, territory, senses and gastronomy coalesce into extraordinary experiences, that will delight your taste buds and widen your knowledge about nature’s mysteries.
Truffles have been known since ancient times, and there is literature that documents their existence during the first century of the Christian era. But it is thanks to the Alban entrepreneur Giacomo Morra, founder of Tartufi Morra and inventor of the Truffle Fair, that Alba has become the hub of White Truffles at the beginning of the 20th century, also with collateral events such the Beauty Pageant ‘La Bella Trifulera’ — that appoints the most beautiful truffle huntress.
It is important to underline that whether you are a truffle hunter or expert it is rarely a full time job. Even though the fruit is treasured by many, you cannot not make a living out of it and the work connected to truffles is triggered only by an immense passion. So most truffle hunters are either retired or have a day job. This practice is founded upon very concrete premises, made up of natural clues, but also intangible and non-demonstrable events. For truffle hunters, for example, the Moon — to which this new edition of the Fair is dedicated — is an integral part of the search path: the lunar phases determine when and where to find the precious Tubers.
To fully experience the world of truffles, this is how you can spend an entire day in Alba:
The Consorzio Turistico Langhe Monferrato Roero organizes truffle tours to discover the soul of this magical area of Piedmont, unfolding the traditions connected to the fruiting body of the subterranean Ascomycete fungus. They will take you into the woods, to meet a Trifolao (truffle hunter) who will show you how truffle hunting works.
In Trezzo Tinella I met Mr. Carlo Marenda — a project manager who is the youngest truffle hunter in Langhe and his dog Buk (a mix between Spinone Italiano and Lagotto Romagnolo). Here white and black truffles can be found in the course of nine months, close to wild hazelnut trees, oaks, poplars, lindens and willows.
In order to go truffle hunting you must have a license and a dog; and it often happens at night, when nature is asleep and the exploration can be more secretive. Truffles can be found digging just a few centimeters into in the ground, or even up to one meter. This is why dogs are so crucial, along with the Trifolai’s tools that have the resemblance of hooks. In the past pigs were used, because of their strong sense of smell, but they were difficult to manage so today canines make the best companions in this venture. There is no specific dog breed that hunts for truffles, but usually the best are crossbred, because they are stronger and longest-living. The training begins when they are two months old, and the lucky pups learn to recognize truffles by eating them on a daily basis for a month. In the evenings, before their meal, the delicious fungus is buried in an area of the garden so that the dogs must find the truffle before being rewarded.
Joining a truffle hunt makes you understand why this fungus is so cherished, it truly epitomizes nature’s virtuousness, as Mr. Marenda sums up: “The truffle is the first indicator of the bio-diversity. Where truffles grow, everything is perfect: the soil, the water, and the cultivation close to the forest.”
Truffles can be eaten with either hot or cold dishes, but it’s recommendable to put them on food that doesn’t have any smell, in order to have their aroma dominate the platter. The classy Enoclub, in the center of Alba, is recognized by its worldwide habitual clientele as the touchstone traditional-style restaurant for enjoying the flavors and ingredients of the local cuisine. From their truffle menu you may select the typical Piedmont egg tagliolini known as “Tajarin,” the Fassona meat tartare, the fried eggs and even dessert: the ambrosial Barolo Zabaione. The wine list is just as enticing, as it includes products such as Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, as well as Arneis, Freisa and Grignolino.
The Sensory Analysis I experienced, was lead by the knowledgeable Dr. Stefano Cometti, a veterinary on a day to day basis who, because of his exceptional expertise in truffles, featured as one of the judges of this year’s Fair. He explained to me the conformation of these ecstatic fruits of nature: “The truffle is an hypogenic mushroom that develops its life cycle entirely inside the soil. Its composition is 90% H2O and 10% mineral salts. It is generated by the connection of the spores of tree roots and the soil, that after about a hundred days take shape, become solid and start to smell. So no matter whether the truffle is small or big, the time of formation is always within the range of approximately three months. Its full development is simply attested by the fact it starts to release its famous scent.”
This exclusive workshop was carried out with a variety of truffle specimens, as Mr. Cometti taught me how to analyze color, size, texture, compactness, integrity and scent — some truffles may smell of honey, hay, spices, garlic, ammonia, blue cheese, smelly socks or even rotten smoked Wiener sausages! I also learnt how to preserve my truffle: you must wrap it up in paper towel, put it in a jar and keep it in the fridge. Last but not least, I discovered the ritual involved to place it on my platter: quickly wash the truffle with some cold water, using a toothbrush to remove the remaining soil, and once it is dry use a scalloped blade shaver to slice it on the dish.
In Alba, you can buy a variety of truffle products from the vendors in the streets of the quaint Piedmontese town. The Montaldo Primo di Montaldo Alberto offers a scrumptious selection of “First’s Filets” made in Neviglie, in the province of Cuneo, where this family practices the art of local butchery.
Inside the International White Truffle Fair you will relish in the selection of truffle products, that range from honey to butter. But the real challenge is to find the perfect truffle to bring back home. My mission was accomplished with the help of Dr. Cometta: he introduced me to Mr. Vittorio Palma from Prierio, who was awarded with the Silver Truffle Award during a previous edition of Alba’s Fair. The earthy smell and corrugation of the external skin of the truffle won the stamp of approval for my purchase!
The International White Truffle Fair
With over six hundred thousand visitors, the International White Truffle Fair of Alba is undoubtably the highlight for excellent food and wine tourism — one of the main tourist attractions for the area of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato.
The strength of the International White Truffle Fair of Alba is characterized by the diversified opportunities to revel in Truffle Mania. This event goes beyond the traditional gastronomic appointment, offering visitor exhibitions, show cooking, street events and experiential itineraries.
My day ended with one of their Foodies Moments, with Two Star Michelin Chef Nicola Portinari, of restaurant La Pece. In the course of an hour, he performed an elaborate cooking show. Squid, anchovies, licorice and sea asparagus merged into a dish, that was sprinkled with the main star of autumn in Piedmont and protagonist of the International Fair: The Alba White Truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico).