Bordered by France and Switzerland and with a name meaning “at the foot of the mountains”, Italy’s Piedmont region is the very heart and soul of Italian truffle country. When the autumn truffle harvest begins each year, Piedmont’s forests have embraced warm orange and yellow hues and leaves at the end of their life cycle crunch underfoot. The air is crisp and filled with anticipation for a bountiful harvest.
Truffle hunters with an acute sense of intuition refined by years of experience rely on trained dogs with a sharp sense of smell to locate truffles in the forests of Piedmont. The most rare and precious of them all is the tartufo bianco pregiato, a white truffle with an unmistakably intricate and intense aroma.
Each year in October and November the town of Alba in Piedmont hosts the International Alba White Truffle Fair, a festival dedicated to this holy grail of truffles. Alba is considered to be the gastronomic capital of the region but truffles, fine wine, and even Nutella aside, the town lends itself well to those also interested in a relaxed stroll to admire the architecture.
Along your way you will likely pass Centro Culturale San Giuseppe, a cultural centre housed inside the converted Church of St. Joseph, which hosts art exhibitions and choir concerts. It’s a steep climb to the top of the church bell tower but the views over Alba and the surrounding hills serve as a reward for your efforts. Archaeology enthusiasts will be at home in the church’s basement, where remains of medieval structures previously built on the church site are still visible.
In Alba and the rest of Piedmont, however, you will somehow always find your way back to truffles. Here are some tips and tricks so you can start enjoying their alluring, intricate, and expensive taste.
- There are nine varieties of truffles in Italy which are edible but only six which are widely available: Bianco pregiato, Nero pregiato, Scorzone, Marzuolo, Invernale, and Nero liscio.
- Aroma is oh-so important as it heavily influences your sense of taste. White truffles have a “balanced and delicate scent of garlic, hay, and honey” and should never be cooked. Their taste is subliminal when freshly shaved over risotto, pasta, or scrambled eggs.
- Black truffles, on the other hand, weave their earthy flavour into dishes during the cooking process, like with cheese fondue or juicy roasts. They can also be grated fresh over pasta, eggs, or sautéed mushrooms on toasted croutons.
- Infuse softened, unsalted butter with finely grated truffles to savour with a fresh, crusty baguette, baked potatoes, or to brush over meat before serving.
- Full bodied red wines pair well with truffle dishes and in Piedmont, you’ll no doubt find just what you’re looking for at any of the region’s intimate boutique wineries.
If you can’t get your hands on fresh truffles, truffle oil and truffle vinegar will still add flavour and aroma to your salads, and truffle paste to pasta sauces and risotto. But once you have tasted the real thing, you can never go back.