Thursday, 30 October 2008

Bonding Over Truffles in Alba

I first read about truffles when I picked up and dusted off a copy of A Year In Provence from my mum's bookshelf a week before I left for Italy. In the book, the main character is intrigued by the value ascribed to, and the effort dedicated to finding these seemingly nondescript little lumps of fungi, most of which can be found deep in the woods buried a foot or so under the trees. He mentions how one truffle of average proportion can cost a few hundred dollars, making it a delicacy that only the likes of Brad Pitt could enjoy on a regular basis. I also recall skimming over line or two about how the French like to believe that truffles are a native product of France, whereas in actual fact, they are imported from Italy.

Well, the concept of truffles went from being an abstract line in a book to reality this past weekend when I had the opportunity to visit a The National White Truffle Festival in Alba! My companions were: Marco (a friend I met a week ago through the University of Torino message board), RaeAnne (a fellow au pair from Colorado), and Federico (an actor friend of Marco's), and though we knew very little of one another, we managed to have one of those weekends you just want to mark down as one of the best in your life.

The truffle festival itself was a crossover between a farmer's market and a wine tasting festival in its make-up. Downstairs was a small theatre where a documentary about the significance of truffles was being played, and it just so happened that Marco was the electrician for the film, while Federico was one of the actors. Upstairs, you could find booth after booth of vendors selling not only truffle related products, but also wine, cheese, meats, sauces, breads, and more. The confluence of smells was overwhelming, and the hall was so chockablock that it was hard to move. We managed to taste a number of delicious samples, the best being a wine called Moscato D'Asti -- a sweet dessert wine that was so full and flavoursome that it may as well have been a meal in itself.

This was followed by a savoury meal at the Osteria Nuova on via Calissano, a miniature but unmistakably popular lunch destination on one of the side streets of Alba. The price was more than a bargain considering what we received. For only eight euros, we were able to share a full plate of deliciously smelly, old cheese covered in truffle slices and thick slices of salami. For another eight euros, we had the pleasure of tucking into a dish of rosy pink beef and tuna. And while we could have probably spent an additional eight euros on something else, our stomachs told us no, and we moved on promptly to the final destination of the day.

We soon found ourselves looking at what could have been paradise. A mere two miles from Alba sits a wine production farm, located at the top of one of the many rolling hills that rumple up the Italian landscape. What was once an expanse of green vines heavy with purple grapes is now a palette of reds, yellows, oranges and browns - a view just as spectacular as one you might see in Ontario's deciduous regions during the fall months, but uniquely Italian all the same. At the pinnacle of the hill stands a proud looking tree which Federico tells me has been around since the mid-1800's. From its lower bows, we sit and take in the landscape, a little despondent knowing that we cannot stay forever.

Though much more happened, this is a taste of what we saw at Alba. Having now experienced the natural and unaffected beauty of rural Italy, I realize now, more strongly than ever, how much of a city person I am not.

Update: Oh, and my impression of truffles? They're not as good as everyone makes them out to be, as with most things in life. They taste a bit like potent mushrooms. Personally, my eyes were glued to the varieties of cheeses most of the day!


amethyst said...

Are they worth trying when I get over there? =P

heather-in-italia said...

Errr probably not. You'd better spend your money on something a little more...long-lasting :)

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