Truffle festival and other delights of Piedmont
Piedmont, Italy’s most northwest region borders Switzerland and France.
True to the meaning of its name (foot of the mountain), Piedmont is a land of mountains and hills. It is surrounded on three sides by the Alps, and has the highest peaks and largest glaciers in Italy.
This location and the beautiful hilly landscape of the region, as well a highly charming and very authentically Italian cities in itself makes Piedmont an amazing destination for a stunning vacation.
This however was not the purpose of my recent visit to Piedmont. This was a trip of indulgence and meeting with one of Italy’s most famous ingredients.
The return of the white diamond
Despite having some of Italy’s most famous produce, Piedmont lacks the same attention from tourists as famous Italian regions like Tuscany or Veneto. Piedmont however is not a region that should be overlooked. This is especially the case in the autumn time as region presents one of it’s most exclusive and famous inhabitant.
Yes Piedmont does have some of Italy’s most famous and delicious wines. Yes Torino is an charmingly authentic Italian working-class city with the Fiat factory being not just the backbone of the region but an integrate part Italy itself. As summer ends the focus of this regions changes though.
With autumn comes truffles and especially in Piedmont this means the return of the white truffle. This king of mushrooms ranks caviar, champagne, oysters and foie gras as food that supremely signifies luxury, and it’s scarcity of almost exclusively growing in the Piedmont region makes it much more sought after then the black truffle.
The epicenter of the white truffles is the city of Alba. Every year Alba pays tribute to Piedmont’s famous truffle by hosting a truffle festival – a true jumble of everything truffle-related partnered with Piedmonts famous and bold wines.
The 87th edition of the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba as it is officially called runs from October 7th until November 26th giving truffle enthusiasts a great chance to get up close and person with the white truffle’s slightly garlicky, deep musky, earthy, pungent and deliciously funky aroma.
King of the hill
Now I have wanted to go to this truffle festival for many years, actually as soon as I heard of its existence. I therefore was very excited that I persuaded my good friend Michael to tag along with me, and take the long drive from Denmark down to Piedmont to explore the festival and the wines.
I am not saying that everyone needs to do a road trip and drive all the way to Piedmont. However I surely will recommend everyone going there to get a car so you get to explore the landscape of this beautiful region.
One thing is for sure, had we not had the car we would never have been able to move ourselves up through the narrow hairpin turns to stay in Trieso, a tiny village occupying the top of one of the hills just outside of the city of Alba. I am glad we did though.
Piedmont is full of little agriturismos – villas and wineries turned into delightful bed and breakfast stays.
We stayed at Villa Incanto in Treiso, about 7 km from Alba. The Villa offers absolutely splendid, unspoiled views of the vineyards and hills with the alps rising majestically in the background.
The villa additionally offers a nice pool. Seeing this was late autumn didn’t use it though (our viking heritage apparently is totally lost on the both of us). The rooms are nice but simple, the service and the friendliness of the host young host couple Claudia and Mattia an absolute delight.
Another big perk about staying at Villa Incanto is that it’s literally located 100 meter from famed La Ciau del Tornavento. Here you get Michelin star food and the same amazing views over the landscape.
Alba – home of truffles
The city of Alba is the cornerstone of the truffle industry, hosting the annual truffle festival. The city could also be considered Piedmonts culinary capital, as it is home to Enrico Crippa and his restaurant Piazza Duomo. This, a three star Michelin restaurant, is rated number 15 in the world and number 2 in Italy. Whether this is enough to refer the city as the culinary capital can be disputed, but what cannot be disputed is how this makes Alba a worthwhile visit all year around.
As Michael and I find our way down from Treviso in the early morning, pumped to go truffle feasting, we decide to go explore Alba a bit first. First stop is for an obligatory morning espresso, we grab it at Café Vergnano a few streets from the entry to the festival. Being we are in Piedmont we add a piece of Gianduiotto – the famous local chocolate with hazelnut that help inspire the birth of Nutella (another famed name of Pietmontese origin). The place is puzzling like any Italian coffee place in the morning. As we enjoy our coffee, we can’t help but the delightfully flamboyant espresso machine, which basically looks like a large steel version of Starwars’ R2-D2 (without the legs) with a large eagle statue on the top. Italians know how to be flashy for sure.
Piedmont is Nebbiolo-country, and Nebbiolo is synonymies with Barolo and Barbaresco wines. These amazing wines are famed for their power and tannins where especially the former packs a heavy punch.
As we still had time to kill before the opening of the festival we therefore decided to do a bit of exploring in the local wine stores, and what an experience that was! We all know that little corner in our local wine store where they keep all the good stuff right? Well all the wine stores in Alba look exactly like that corner, except it’s the whole store that is like that! We see many great Barolos and Barbarescos, normal and magnum versions, and in vintages that’s hard to find outside of Italy.
First part of souvenir shopping is being taken care of here.
A Barolo vintage 99, 82 and 67 gift case set – Yikes!
Hitting the wall of truffles
Finally it was time to enter the truffle festival, which is located right in the middle of the city. Excitement rises for me as we enter, and as soon as we get our ticket and stand in front of the entrance it hits me! The intense smell of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of truffle, gathered in what is basically a large tent build for the occasion. It’s so intense and amazing a smell that almost hits you like hitting a wall – kind of like when you walk through the perfume section in a department store, except this is nature’s own fragrance.
The festival is basically a big representation of many of the regions most famous products – honeys, amazing aromatic hazel nuts, cheeses and of course in the middle the main show the truffles, sold by the old truffle hunters themselves.
At the back you have a large bar serving local wine by the glasses. For any foodie this setting like being a kid in a candy store again, and luckily there are lots of things you can sample or purchase.
For the white truffles it was only window-shopping for me unfortunately but I enjoyed just seeing truffle after truffle displayed right there in front of me.
Walking around this festival is a sure guarantee for your taste buds and stomach to start craving some food. Luckily there is a section in connection with the wine bar where you can get to try some of the local specialties.
We go all-in and get what could best be described as the Piedmont menu, I guess. A nice plate of either local tajarin pasta with butter and sage or fried egg and a generous shaving of white truffle on top, a classic torta di nocciole and a glass of Barolo. BUM! how is that for a lunch menu!
I went for the tajarin, which was absolutely delightful. Cooked perfectly with the butter lifting the flavor of the truffles – one of the great and classic combos to have with the white truffle.
This little menu was a perfect stop to a great visit to the festival, a festival that I know I will want to go back and visit again, and again.
The truffle festival and Alba – final thoughts
Visiting Alba and the truffle festival should really be on every foodie’s wish list. It’s a culinary experience and a chance to try some of the most extraordinary produce in the world. Even outside of the truffle season, Alba is a city that is worth a visit. It is a cozy and beautiful little town, with one of the absolutely best restaurants in the world in Enrico Crippa’s Piazza Duomo.
Throughout the region of Piedmont you find extraordinary and interesting cities to visit, from the main city of Turin, home of Juventus football club and the head quarters of Fiat to famous cities like Asti and Barolo and their wineries.
Rent a car, stop at a local agrituristmos and explore the local restaurants. I find that booking.com gives a great overview of the agrituristmos’. For books on the area, I highly recommend Piedmont: The dream, the house, the life, a book that goes into great details to describe the best local restaurants and wineries in the regions, and it helped us having one of the best and most authentic dining experiences I have ever had.