In the scope of luxury food items, there’s nothing quite like the white truffle. While a trifolao, or truffle hunter, can forage for the delicacy in various parts of Italy, its closest tie is to the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy. The harvest town of Alba hosts the chief celebration of the fine fungi in the Alba International White Truffle Fair. Held over 5 weeks, from the first half of October through to the second half of November, visitors flock here to sample truffle, head out on early morning foraging walks, buy their own nuggets at the weekend market days and for some, attend the prestigious invite-only auctions.
The festival’s origins date back to 1928, when it was initially a broader harvest festival to celebrate the wealth of fresh produce that is grown around Alba. Now of course, the fervour is focussed primarily on a certain white gold, which local chefs, market stall owners and foragers liberally shave over rich dishes of Langhe tradition.
For a crash course in the world of white truffle, head to one of the market days, which offers visitors a chance to see, taste, smell the brown-white globes, which are sold directly by local truffle hunters or trusted vendors. To quell any hunger, head to the AlbaQualità food and wine space. Discover wines from the Langhe and Roero, sample artisanal sweets, cheeses, egg pastas, cured meats and other bits of local produce that have brought gastronomic acclaim to the Italian piedmont.
On top of getting a serious truffle fix, be sure to spectate the fiercely competitive donkey palio race. Each donkey wears a different colour, representing the town’s nine boroughs, and the costuming continues afterwards with a medieval parade of locals dressed as noblemen and women, soldiers, knights, commoners and peasants. During the spectacle inside Piazza Osvaldo Cagnasso, districts act out a slice of folklore history.
WORDS OF WISDOM
- Attend a Truffle Sensory Analysis, where a judge will reveal the secrets of the earthen jewel, and teach how to choose a good truffle, store it and cook with it.
- Ask around and organise to head out on a private early morning truffle walk. The dawn wake up call will be worth it for a crisp jaunt across the countryside, following the nose of a trained hunting dog. The best way to understand the huge amount effort that goes into foraging for elusive fungi.
- Stay outside of Alba in the wine country regions of Langhe and Roero to ensure the trip becomes a true bon vivant experience. Visit local wineries for tastings of Barolo and Barbaresco varieties and sample local produce, a lot of which is organic-certified.
- For a Michelin experience in central Alba, consider Piazza Duomo, currently offering 3-star dining. More low-key is La Piola, which is recognised by Michelin for its informal nature. The braised beef in Barolo sauce with stone-ground polenta is a house favourite.