Alba’s famous truffle fair brings great taste to northern Italy

The International Truffle Fair of Alba | ©cristianoalessandro/123RF.COM
The International Truffle Fair of Alba | ©cristianoalessandro/123RF.COM

Alba’s famous truffle fair brings great taste to northern Italy

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Truffles, mmm mmm! Not those chocolatey ones you can buy in Belgium, but those fabulous funguses that add just the right umami notes to all kinds of savory dishes. And as autumn is the season in which they are harvested, it’s also the perfect time of year to get your hands on some.

Truffles grow over much of southern Europe, with countries including Italy, France, Croatia and Spain producing much of this tuber that is impossible to cultivate and instead searched out in the natural spaces in which it thrives. Truffles are usually found around the roots of certain types of trees such as oaks, hazel and beech and demand a particular type of soil. As they grow underground, assistance is needed in finding them, and that comes in the form of animals that can sniff them out.

Female pigs are excellent at this task, namely because there’s a chemical in truffles that smells like a sex hormone found in the saliva of male pigs. But the problem is their hoofs and snouts cause a lot of damage when they try to unearth this snack they find incredibly tasty. Therefore, most truffle hunt companions are dogs, who have no desire to eat the truffles. Italy’s most popular truffle-sniffing breed is the Lagotto Romagnolo. However, given the right training, even mixed breeds of humble origin can do the job as well as any pedigreed pup.

There’s no need to go out on a truffle hunt (although they can be arranged) to procure this pricey gourmet treat that’s oh-so-tasty when served over pasta or risotto. To buy, sample or savor Tuber magnatum Pico, make way to Italy’s famed Fiera Internazionale Tartufo Bianco d’Alba, the International Alba White Truffle Fair. Alba is a city in the region of Piedmont that’s known far and wide for the truffles that grow in the nearby Langhe Hills, considered among the world’s best.

The annual truffle fair, now in its 91st edition, is not one event but many. There’s the World Market at which prize truffle specimens are sold, some of which will go for thousands of euros. The Alba Truffle Show offers cooking shows starring top chefs, along with the chance to sample food pairings and fine wines of the region (Saturday’s tastings are led in English). The town’s historical center also features an exhibition area. Those hoping to raise future gourmets can introduce their children to haute cuisine at the Alba Kids Truffle, a pavilion dedicated to the education of young ones and their families.

The fair takes place on Saturdays and Sundays from Oct. 9 through Dec. 5. Tickets for entry and the separate activities should be booked online in advance of travel.

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