Known as the White Truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico) or Alba Truffle, this rare relative of the mushroom is most prized when it grows in the Piemonte region of Italy. Alba is a city Southwest of Milano and East of Turin, nestled in foothills of the Alps. It is known for its beautiful landscapes, Roman and Medieval history, colorful festivals, famous local wines, and delicious food. One great part of that food is the White Truffle, and Alba celebrates it every year in October. The trifola d’Alba is harvested in autumn and taken directly to market in the Truffle Fair or used in local food specialties. The Fair is a huge event that includes medieval costumes, festivals, the annual Truffle auction at Grinzane Cavour, and many traditional events shown below.
While Romans originally settled Alba Pompeia, it wasn’t until 1788 that Vittorio Pico gave an official name to the fungus with an astonishing earthy, woody, cheese-like aroma and flavor. Its rare nature and rumors of aphrodisiac qualities spread through Europe, quickly making it one of the most expensive items on the menu. Recently scientists have discovered a volatile alcohol closely related to testosterone, so the rumors may be more than that. After the Second World War, Giacomo Morro spent much of his life bringing the Alba White Truffle to the world. Today it is the only guaranteed truffle, each one being carefully evaluated by experts before it is sold. Every truffle must be found, and since they grow totally underground beneath specific trees under precise conditions, help is needed. Traditionally, female pigs were used to sniff them out, but Truffle hunters, or trifulau, now train dogs for the job, as they are less likely to eat the delicacy.
Medieval traditions will capture your imagination during the Truffle Bacchanal, a celebration of music, wine and food held on one Saturday night a year. With torches, period costumes, traditional dances and performances, centuries will slip away for the evening. Smells of local cured meats, Piemonte wine, cheese, chocolate and, of course, Alba Truffle dishes are sure to keep your appetite strong. You can visit The Tartufi Morra shop and honor the father of the Alba truffle trade. It is in the historical center of town and you can smell or own the White Truffle in many forms, from condiments to finished foods.
The Donkey Race is a hilarious, fun part of the festivities. It was started to mock the famous horse race in Asti, as in the 13th century Asti conquered Alba, burned the wine vineyards and smugly held their horse race in the defeated town. Now in the Palio degli Asini, hundreds of costumed figures parade to trumpets and drums, waving banners and flags to start the race. While all in fun, the competition is fierce, with each district trying to win the race and the crowd’s admiration. Another costumed festival is the Investiture of the Podesta. The most powerful magistrate of the late 12th century onward, the Podesta is awarded the title and paid his due homage as part of the White Truffle Festival.
It is said White Truffles are at their flavorful peak within three days of harvest. A number of markets during the Fair will delight the novice or the expert Truffle connoisseur. Hundreds of vendors will offer Piemonte wine, food, produce and crafts. Medieval sorcerers attended such fairs, and you might see some again. Today, the love of nature those sorcerers practiced is called organic agriculture, and it guarantees the freshest, most flavorful of Italian produce and local wine, including the famous Alba Truffle.