Tucked into the northwest region of the boot that’s famed for giving us some of the most splendid cuisine and wine on the planet, the fall months become an even more bustling time for the town of Alba in Piedmont where white truffle season ensues. The very same place where Barolo was born and the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy is the capital of white truffles for the world.
For every epicurean out there, this region is intensely celebrated, for it seems to excel at everything. But of all the incredible exports that come out of this region, there is none more treasured than the elusive white truffle. Unlike other truffles, the white truffle cannot be cultivated in the same manner as other truffles like the Périgord truffle.
The sheer rarity of this divine ingredient surely adds to the mystique of it. In October and November when truffle season begins, the region is populated with gastronomes hoping to get a taste of it at one of the many refined restaurants in the region or purchase white truffles for their own consumption. However, prices are not cheap and with every year, they become more and more rare.
While truffles come in white and black varieties and are part of the fungus family, they grow underground. Unlike other species of fungus though, experts aren’t very sure how truffles originated and have surmised that they could merely be a defect, albeit a delicious one, in the workings of nature. Once white truffle season begins in October, the rush is on from fine dining establishments and connoisseurs alike to snatch them up with price tags that reach nearly $1,000 per 100 grams.
Black truffles are certainly good for adding an earthy flavor and they possess a wholly pungent aroma. There’s no doubt that they can add an elevated element to any dish. However, the white truffles found in Alba specifically are purely delicate in flavor. They zing with hints of garlic, butter, and honey, as well as have that earthy quality. Unlike other edible fungus species like cremini or shitake for example, you don’t eat truffle white or black whole. They’re far too rich for that. They are ideal for shaving over risotto, or atop pastas as the finishing touch for a dish, adding that extra element of elegance that takes a dish from being good to standing out in one’s mind for the rest of their lives.
Truffle hunting itself is a bit of a sport. The area in Alba is protected by UNESCO and is best taken on at night with a canine companion to help track down the coveted white truffles, though in other regions, a certain breed of pig is used to unearth this edible gold. The fruits of the truffle hunters’ labors are your rewards, so long as you have the money to pay for it.
Gourmands don’t need to trample through the Italian landscape searching for these delicate white truffles though. They are quite easy to find when you arrive in Alba in October and November every year. As it is the season for white truffles, during this time is when you’ll find the International White Truffle Fair, an exposition that attracts countless connoisseurs from all over Italy as well as all around the world.
Indulgences like these make life worth living and stepping into the cobblestone streets of Alba, it’s the ideal setting for a fair around food. Then again, most Italian things are centered around food, which is evident in the robust cuisine from the north to the south and everywhere in between.
Should you have the good fortune to find yourself at the International White Truffle Fair, you’ll be treated to stalls where you can enjoy the many tastes of Italy and enjoy interesting performances. However, the real action is at the truffle market in the fair. The truffle hunters exhibit their white truffles for purchase. It might seem odd if you’ve never actually seen a white truffle because looking at them, they look like old tree roots – brown, knobby and boring. It’s a bit of a letdown in the looks department since you’d think that with all the hype, these things would shimmer like gold.
But it’s that rarity that cannot be cultivated that makes these so intensely desired. Also, their unique flavor. True that black truffles are a lovely addition to any dish, white truffles are the quintessential luxury ingredient. The competition is fierce but white truffle season is the livelihood for these truffle hunters. For those that come to purchase their carefully curated finds, they will spare no expense in snapping them up for their restaurants.
Since truffles are tougher to transport and their shelf life is limited, it’s best to eat them as soon as possible. While visiting this region, you don’t have to compete for the last truffle but rather, stroll into one of the many refined restaurants here to truly get a taste of it as it is meant to be. White truffles are never cooked either to preserve its delicate flavor. This delicacy is always shaved fresh right onto your dish. In Alba, you will find them shaving it right atop your dish until you command them to stop so be forewarned that not paying attention may cost you more than you were willing to spend.
Still it’s worth it for the chance to taste one of the most mystical delicacies on the planet. Just walking into any restaurant in Alba during white truffle season is a pleasure for the olfactory senses, one that you can just about taste. So, sit down at the best table and get a taste of the white truffles for yourself. As they become more and more rare with every passing year, you never know if it may be your last chance to try it before it’s gone forever.