Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Truffle hunting in Alba

You can almost find the truffle fair in Alba by following your nose..... the fair, which takes place in the Cortile della Maddalena, is an annual event in which a huge variety of truffles and truffle-based products are displayed. As you enter the marquee you are hit by the distinctive aroma of the truffle which is pungent and not entirely pleasant. However, grated over a freshly fried egg, the taste of a good white truffle is just sublime. I'm very lucky because I don't have to pay through the nose (sorry!) for these delicacies: my friend Gino is, amongst other things, a trifolaio or truffle hunter. Gino and his little white dogs venture out into the rolling hills of the Langhe to hunt for truffles and they bring back small nuggets of the black and white truffles for family and friends. The dogs are trained from infancy and can detect a truffle up to a metre under the ground, even in the snow. The dog stops directly over the spot that the truffle is buried, and then Gino digs for the treasure. Wth careful instructions about storage and preparation, the truffles are handed over. I must keep them in paper in a jar in the fridge. The jar is important as the odour is so strong that even eggs stored nearby will absorb it through their shells. I need to buy a special truffle grater, as they must be served as thin slivers, much thinner than I could cut by hand. And finally the release of the flavour and perfume as the flakes fall onto freshly prepared pasta........
The lovely town of Alba goes back to prehistoric times, but was re-founded as a Roman town, Alba Pompeia, due to its strategic position on the road from Aquila to Turin. There are a few Roman remains, such as the temple of Pertinax, born in Alba, a governor of the province of Britain and also holder of the dubious honour of being the shortest reigning Roman emperor (86days). The loveliest buildings, however are the medieval towers and beautiful old churches. There are also a few fine examples of Italian fin de siecle architecture with well-preserved wrought iron balconies.
Now it is a thriving, stylish town with good shops, a huge market and a choice of traditional or modern bars. The town owes its air of well-being to the truffles, the wine industry (Barolo and Barbaresco are nearby) and also thanks to the fact that it is home to Ferrerro, the chocolatier. Chocolate addicts can visit the factory shop..... I, however, headed for the Fontanafredda vineyards and, after a tour of the cellars, sat down to a well earned degustazione - or wine-tasting - cheers!

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