88th Annual Celebration
Our destination is the White Truffle Festival in Alba, Italy. This is the 88th annual celebration of the world’s most expensive and finest, “hypogeal fungus ” – the central delicacy in paying homage to Piedmont wine and Italian cuisine.
We almost didn’t make it here…
Harvest time can be from late September to December, and the Festival is from October to the end of November… and we just made it for the last weekend of November.
Today is a gray morning with just a hint of misty rain. While driving, I wondered what climate change was doing to the white truffle since they are foraged in the wild; “was it a good year for the tuber-like fungus, or is pollution effecting the yield?”
Hazelnut trees everywhere!
The city of Bra was our base, around 20 minutes from Alba; a lovely short drive away. Everywhere we looked were 8-10-foot-high hazelnut trees — made famous by Nutella. These are some of the finest hazelnuts in Europe, only they are now augmented by other countries like Turkey, and thankfully, we have an enormous harvest in Oregon.
It’s not only the Truffle Festival, it’s also their local market day…plenty to see and buy. Most of the historic cobbled streets are jammed with vendors down the center with hardly any room to walk.
Actually, it is difficult to figure out where the Truffle Festival is located because of the Saturday market. The crowds are thick and slow moving, including parents with their strollers — darling babies, and adorable 4-legged babies! Just look at this family of 5 poochies… the littlest one is on the street.
We were lost but enjoying our line of sight.
On our right, a bakery caught my eye which halts our progress. Inside is a large tray of the biggest cookies I’ve ever seen – as big as your fist. On the wall area are dozens of bread sticks (grissini) made by hand. We bought a few bread sticks to sample and they were disappointing, but later made great bread crumbs.
The cookies were amazing… hazelnut with chocolate. They are like none other!
No market is complete without roasted chestnuts!
Another wonderful surprise is a chestnut vendor. My childhood experience with my father forces me to buy some — every time. This fellow had quiet an operation and they were just what I needed to hold my appetite.
The exhibition hall…
“From Land to Moon”
The event is in a large tent housed in the Cortille della Maddelena courtyard. Much smaller than anticipated, but definitely adequate. Beside the entrance is a sign displaying this year’s slogan: “From Land to Moon.” (Tra Terra E Luna) – more on that later..
As we entered the tent, an immediate rush of truffle scent filled my head. The white truffle is a marvelous earthy, and musky fragrance. Not at all what I expected. Contrary to what you have heard… only dogs can find them, pigs would eat them!
Barolo and Barbaresco’s
Included in our admission price are two tastings; Barolo and Barbaresco’s…so many to choose! Between the two of us we could make the most of 4 samples.
While sipping our wine…
…plates of food go flying by us; eggs with truffle shavings, along with (carne cruda) raw beef. Mark decided on the ravioli (agnoletti), while I opted for homemade (tajarin) egg pasta as the perfect vehicle to deliver the generous taste of white truffles so their earthy flavor could shine. The price is steep with a full glass of wine, but it was exquisite and the truffle is delicious at first bite.
It was a thrill to taste a truffle shaved in front of your dish. We were tempted to buy a small one, but a truffle only lasts a week, and I hear worthless after 10 days. An average truffle at 2 ounces would be $100. I had never eaten such an expensive delicate item that gave so much flavor.
What can I say? it was a delicate taste with tons of flavor, and I ate way too fast.
What we did buy were several local cheeses with a truffle vein. There was a 25-minute wait between customers and I was losing my patience. The wife is cutting samples of cheese with a long, pointed knife…giving customers a taste from the tip. I cannot envision this would ever be permitted in the USA.
White truffle cheese
Our small taste of pasta with truffles was just a tease. After being on our feet for 6 hours, its time for dinner. Without a reservation, we were turned away from Osteria dell’Arco (the sister restaurant of Boccondivino located in Bra.) That’s ok, we dined at Enosfizioteca Conteroso, and enjoyed our meal in a much less hectic pace, and the patrons here appeared to be local, and not filled with businessmen on an expense account.
The art work on the walls are former truffle hunters comparing their stash.
Our selection was the sumptuous vitello- tonnato, and local veal in Barolo wine. It’s impossible not to eat well in the Piedmont region.
Well behaved dogs are everywhere on the historic streets and it is only fitting they have a role in the festival theme. They are ultimately the connection in the theme, “From Land to Moon.” Folklore has it that the best time to find the elusive truffle is during the night of a full moon by the hunter’s 4-legged friend.
How cool was it to see signs…“All dogs welcome.” No doubt dogs are as stunned, as we are, if they could read! And not a dirty dog in the bunch!
Come to Alba for white truffles…they just might be the best you’ll ever taste…Why not plan on a truffle hunt and watch the trained dog sniff and dig out truffles.
I saved my favorite dog photo for last. Just too, too cute!
Enosfizioteca Conteroso Via Pierino Belli 4C, 12051, Alba, Italy