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October 9, 2019

Italy: Alba, the White Truffle Festival


Black truffles on a plate of pasta

In early November 2018 we arrived in Alba Italy at the time of the commune’s famous truffle market. As we learned immediately on arrival, the six weeklong International White Truffle Festival is very popular. Indeed on a long Italian holiday weekend the streets of Alba were packed.

In the center of the town was a festival tent filled with booths selling salami, cheese, wine, pasta, and other fine Italian foodstuffs. The primary attraction is of course the fresh truffles, which were on sale in stalls at the center. Most prized are Alba’s famed white truffles, the event’s prime attraction. We didn’t have to look to see that there were in fact fresh truffles in the tent; the air inside was permeated with such a strong fragrance of truffle that there was little doubt that we’d find them inside.

Indeed, truffles, particularly white truffles, have a very strong odor. What we didn’t know before visiting Alba’s festival is that truffles vary not just in intensity of their odor but also the character of how they smell. At a booth a vender offered to let us smell a few truffles. We learned quickly that each truffle has a distinctive and often very different aroma. Not all truffles are equal, it seems. At the festival there is the rare opportunity to shop for a truffle by its nose.

Testing truffles

We figured to be spectators at the truffle bazaar but in the end we couldn’t help ourselves. Before we left we had re-homed a small white truffle, hoping that it would survive well enough to make a good meal on Wanderlust when we returned to her few of days.

With out small purchased tucked away in a paper bag buried in a backpack in the back of the car we headed onto the roadways. For the next few days as we continued on our journey the inside the car was filled with odor of white truffle. The smell triggered fantasies of pasta with butter and cheese topped with freshly shaven white truffle. For a small tuber our puny truffle pumped out a lot of odor. The dog that found this one didn’t need much of a sense of smell.

Our next stop was in Monaco. To be safe before we hit the streets of Monaco we were sure to pack the truffle away in a plastic bag to seal in the aroma. No sense of taking the risk of being stalked on the Monte Carlo streets by knife-wielding white toque-wearing chefs. You can’t be too careful if you are carrying precious truffles.

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In the end, our truffle was a bit of a disappointment. By the time we reached Wanderlust most of the fragrance was gone; it was an average truffle at best. But at least we got to enjoy the truffle experience in the car.

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We also made a brief stop in Barolo for lunch, with truffle-topped pasta of course, and some wine tasting. This time of year it was packed too.

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