One of the most important festivals in Italy, the Alba International Truffle Festival , celebrates one the rarest and most highly prized cooking ingredients in the world: the white truffle. The unique flavor profile of white truffles is like that of fine wine: something more than words can describe. Its aromas can be mushroomy, and they almost get caught in the throat. While world-renowned chefs use truffles in many different ways, they all agree that Alba is the number one place in the world to get white truffles.
The annual festival offers a plethora of entertainment. The first time that I visited Alba , it was April. I arrived hungry to try fresh white truffles served by award-winning chefs dedicated to the Slow Food Movement, but I was sorely disappointed. White truffles are only fresh between the months of September-December. The truffle festival begins in early October, at the height of the truffle harvest, and runs until mid November. So, foremost, the truffle festival is a great way for gourmets to sample fresh white truffles.
Each day of the festival, local truffle hunters set up grid-like rows of stands proffering their truffles. This event is known as the World Truffle Market, and you can get some really great deals. During an interview with Stefano, whose family owns the Tartufi & Co. shop and whose grandfather, Lidio, was one of the founding members of the prestigious Alba Truffle Association, I was told that prices skyrocket during international sales. But if you are lucky enough to visit Alba, you can pay local prices. At the market, truffle hunters will often try to outbid one another, so try to be a good haggler.
Another unique experience offered in conjunction with the festival is the chance to actually go truffle hunting. Truffle hunting is a secret art and getting the opportunity to tag along should not be taken lightly. Many truffle hunters go only at night, and they always keep their locations secret. When I was taken truffle hunting in the south of Italy , truffle hunter Giuseppe Lolli took me down enough winding roads, which at times were more like dirt paths, that I could never retrace our steps. In Alba, where a single white truffle has cost up to $160,406, tours are offered by a few groups, including Italian Connection: Walking and Cooking Tours . Make sure to book your tour in advance.
During the weeklong festival, the town also hosts a large number of events that are not directly related to truffles. The famous donkey race, for example, includes traditional costumes and music. If you are traveling as a family, this can be a particularly fun experience. An art show, food tastings, wine tastings, and a hot air balloon show are also offered.
-Make hotel reservations in advance and try to stay within walking distance of the festival.
-Show up a few days early or stay a few days late to experience the quieter side of Alba, population 36,000.
-When purchasing truffles, beware of dirty truffles and small rocks: it is an underhanded method of increasing weight and therefore price.
-Truffles dramatically lose size and potency with time: eat fresh!
-Many products are sold with preserved truffles, including truffle honey, truffle pasta, truffle oil, etc. While delicious, these products can be purchased year-round, so focus on the fresh truffles while you have the opportunity.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com