Truffle hunting in Alba, Italy

Amazing Europe | | August 3, 2010 at 3:33 am




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In the pale glow of dusk, a cry went up from Giovanni, the trifolau (truffle hunter) we had set out with on the hunt, and although my Italian is limited, my understanding of the human condition was not. The eager canine that was leading the way had just helped itself to a supremely expensive doggy treat, one that can fetch upwards of $4,000 a pound in the global gourmet market. Few delicacies are as much in demand or as savored as truffles, and you will soon find out why if you were to embark on a Truffle hunting tour, one of several organized in the Piedmont region of north-western Italy. A hot-spot for truffle tourism, as some call it, Piedmont has the Alps rising majestically around it while the south is lined by the Ligurian coast, not even an hour away.

Truffle hunting Alba

Love it or loathe it, Truffles assault your olfactory senses like nothing else. While black Truffles have a certain lingering pungency about them, a mere whiff of the much-in-demand white Truffle is a fist-sized assault on your olfactory senses. Boasting a musky odor that takes you in instantly, it is an aroma that is sensual and musky all at once, with a hint of garlic and earth mingled. A simple region with divine culinary taste, Piedmont is a gastronomic delight unlike anything you have ever had and at its heart is the Truffle. The prime season of the coveted fungi spans 11 months, ranging from June to April and the prized white truffle itself sprouts silently underground from September to December.

Truffle hunting in Italy

Should you need more incentive to visit this as yet distinctly un-touristy region, you can club your travels with a visit to Tuscany, home of the cognoscenti not too far away. If you do embark on one of the increasingly popular Truffle hunts, know that you are in for a strenuous but highly rewarding hunt that will culminate in a meal fit for royalty. For long the Piedmont region was part of the kingdom of Savoy, and traces of its centuries old French traditions can still be seen in their cooking, primarily the use of butter and cream as opposed to the more traditional olives and tomatoes that mark out Italian cuisines. Torino, the capital city of Piedmont, is a pastiche of kitsch and classic beauty as can be seen from its monuments and architectural style. Home to iconic brands such as Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, the north-western city is overflowing with culture and landmarks that have a grandeur all its own and it can still fit in fountains and sweeping boulevards for good measure.

Truffle hunting dogs Italy

The Mole Antonelliana or the National Museum of Cinematic Arts is a former Jewish synagogue and its arcing form sets the architectural tone for the rest of the city. If you instead wish to take a walk through history lane, peruse instead the stony magnificence of Grinzane Cavour, lined by lush greenery and never-ending mountainside scenery, and all of this is just a stone’s throw from Alba itself. The castle (for that is what it is) turns into a madhouse  come the International Truffle auction as gourmands and gourmets from the world over flock to it eager to get a piece of the action. No matter whether you like your vacations laid-back or hands-on, there’s something for everyone in this part of the world.

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