The world capital of white truffles, Alba in Piedmont, Italy, plays host to a number of truffle-centred events every autumn.
Autumn in Piedmont is a mosaic of vivid colours. Warm rust, glowing gold, blazing reds, coppery oranges, soft browns, and mellow yellows. If you’re up early in the morning and happen to step outside, you’ll find a light film of mist hanging in the air. Everything has a cinematic feel to it.
Truffle fair of Alba
Every autumn, there’s also the magic of the white truffle season. The city of Alba prepares to host its flagship event that draws people by the droves. The International Alba White Truffle Fair or Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’ Alba is a landmark showcase and glows on the calendar of gourmands, chefs, and the glitterati from the food world.
This year, from Friday, 8th October to Sunday, 5th December 2021, there will be a glorious exhibit of the Alba white truffle through a series of events spanning two full months, held every Saturday and Sunday.
The White Truffle Market is, of course, the epicenter of the fair. There is produce galore to buy or just browse through. Along with the tartuffi or truffles, one is spoilt for choice with the wide repertoire of cheeses, pastas, cured meats, desserts, chocolates, mushrooms, as also seasonal hazelnuts and chestnuts from the area. Inside this market, wine tastings are conducted in the restaurant area and one can enjoy a plethora of celebrated wines from Langhe and Roero. Think Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Arneis, Dolcetto and others. There are cooking workshops and events which accentuate the culinary heritage of the area.
Although the Truffle Market is the beating heart of this showcase, there is a string of ancillary events that heighten the festivities and have become a tradition of sorts. One of them is the Donkey Palio race, which takes place on the first Sunday of October (this year it was on 3rd October). A theatrical performance brought about a riot of colours that day with over 400 participants in their medieval costumes, highlighting legendary episodes that marked the life of the medieval population.
In fact, a leisurely stroll down the winding roads of Alba throughout this time is kaleidoscopic in itself. There are festivities for tourists and the prized white truffles seem to be trending everywhere — in shop windows, on restaurant menus, and even in activities for kids.
Heritage and history
The white truffle craze is not new. It was prized by the medieval kings and upheld by connoisseurs for thousand of years. However, there was one central figure in this entire white truffle story who took this cherished food to great heights. Giacomo Morra scripted a new history for the white truffle of Alba. As a local, Morra was no stranger to the magic of these unique white objects, which abounded naturally in the hillsides. He envisioned the international success of this regional treasure and a series of PR efforts were galvanised for its success on the world stage. From the 1920s, following a spate of successes, there were foreign press opportunities that were leveraged to spread the word of this edible asset. In 1949, Morra flexed his ‘influencer advocacy’ muscle and considered sending a premium sample to an illustrious figure in politics, sports, or entertainment. Actress Rita Hayworth, President of the United States Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Nikita Khrushchev, and Pope Paul VI were all worthy recipients of the white truffle over the years.
In 1933, the Truffle Fair officially replaced the annual Autumn Festival and a host of related events started to get attached to this festival with every passing year. In the late 1980s, the fair moved in status from a provincial fest to one of national pride, post which it made a mark as an acclaimed international event.
Finding truffles isn’t easy. Truffle hunters or trifulau are masters of the art and know all the nooks and crannies to look for this prize. Of course, they are always guided by their faithful dogs who carry out a large part of the search. The only way to discover the secrets of the trifulau is to accompany them on their excursions. The Associazione Trifulau Colline di Langa organises simulated truffle hunts on which people can embark to get a first-hand experience.
Roero culinary showcase
The Roero gastronomic tradition is an expression of the typical cuisine from Alba. Think fresh pasta like agnolotti and tajarin, with butter and sage, truffles, or with the bra sausage ragout. Chef Davide Palluda, recognised as one of the best Italian chefs, and an advocate of Roero cuisine had a showcase from his award-winning Ristorante all’Enoteca on 7th November (it was Sold Out weeks in advance).
In 2000, Chef Palluda, who hails from Canale, a Piedmontese comune, was rated the best young chef of the year by the Espresso guide and was awarded a Michelin star, which he still upholds. “Canale and the Roero have nurtured my dreams and accompanied my ambitions as a chef. I am aware of this and very grateful. For this reason I have done everything I could to repay them: always at the forefront and in the kitchen,” says this local chef-hero and national pride of Italy.
Gargi Guha is a hotelier, communications professional, and writer. She takes a keen interest in the food, wine, and culture of Italy, especially its 500-plus indigenous grape varieties.