Have you ever had real Italian food? Really real. Aromas that floor you at the door; rich, earthy flavors that have been cultivated for generations and heightened by the innovative craft. Welcome to Alba, where ugly little mushrooms sniffed out by trained dogs and pigs are washed off, meticulously preserved and shaved sparingly over pasta, risotto, grilled vegetables and just about everything else.
Reading Suggestion: Check out this blog post on truffle hunting to get some tips for wine pairing.
In the late Autumn harvest period of the tartufo bianco, early October to mid-November, Alba, nestled in Northern Italy in the Piedmont region, hosts the Alba International White Truffle Fair, which welcomes international chefs, gastronomy buffs, oenophiles and wayward travelers to taste the decadent, aromatic and wildly exclusive white truffle.
Right at the entrance to the fair, visitors are handed a glass – wine plays a large role in the enjoyment of this festival and of the food itself. Kiosks line the convention center at the Cortile della Maddalena, hawking jars of truffle oil, cheeses encrusted with slivers of white truffle, truffle paste and truffle butter, delicate metal truffle graters, and, of course, truffles. Loads of them lay on satin or velvet beds under glass cases attached to large price tags, guarded by graying farmers in denim and flannel.
Reading Suggestion: See what one travel blogger had to say about the Alba International White Truffle Fair to get another perspective.
Tables are set up at the far end of the convention center, next to a standalone kitchen that pumps out plate after plate of piping hot pasta, creamy and flecked with the star of the festival. However, for the hungry traveler who doesn’t want to eat standing up, the exit is just across the floor, and re-entries are permitted.
[Also see our travel article “Visiting Camogli, Portofino and the Italian Riviera“]
Outside, the Corso Giacomo Matteotti, a main drag of the town, is packed with festival-goers from early October to mid-November. Retail storefronts incorporate truffles into their show windows with slogans like “I Love Truffles,” and specialty food stores drag their glass cases of truffles street-side. Restaurants offer special menus with dishes primed for the delicate flakes.
However, wandering just a little further southeast of the crush of people, one begins to smell something new: it’s richer, sweeter, with a hint of hazelnut, joltingly familiar. The scent of a thousand Easter Sundays and sugary breakfasts. The last course has arrived through the nose in the form of an overpowering aroma coming from the Ferrero chocolate factory. From the aperitivo to the dolce, Alba knows how to set up a meal.
Reading Suggestion: Take a look at this blog post on fall food festivals in Italy to get some more ideas for a fall culinary adventure.