Truffle lovers the world over look forward to truffle time in Italy. The Piedmont town of Alba is renown for its celebration which has been held annually since 1929.
Often referred to as Italy’s truffle capital, Alba is also home of the association, which represents truffle-producing towns throughout central Italy. This year’s festival will be held Saturday, October 8 through Sunday, November 27 on weekends.
Truffles, not the chocolate kind, but the tuber-like fungus, lives in a symbiotic relationship with tree roots completely underground so they are difficult to find. Locating and harvesting this delicacy requires not only dedicated hunters but also specially trained truffle-sniffing dogs.
The favored variety of white truffle is the one found under oak trees in the hills of the Langhe and Montferrat areas near Alba. But white truffles can also be found beneath trees such as hazelnut and poplar. Some people even claim to find them under willows and lime trees. The emphasis on having to hunt them rather than grow them accounts for both their rarity and their price.
What is there about the earthy aroma or flavor of truffles that make them so sought after? One thing is the uniqueness. Just as wine characteristics vary season-to-season so does the flavor of truffles depending upon the content of the soil and the climate for the year. They differ not only species to species, but also tree-to-tree which is the reason truffle flavor is so hard to describe and so interesting to enjoy. Some will simply say that truffles smell and taste earthy, while others will describe truffles’ allure as nutty, or musky or wax poetic in an attempt to truly define their experience.
Truffles are synonymous with luxury and by the ounce are the most expensive food in the world. Yes, they are even more expensive than caviar. White truffles from Italy’s Alba area have sold for as much as $3,600 per ounce. That’s why there is much ado about Alba’s White Truffle World Auction and the Truffle-of-the-Year prize. These are said to be the rarest of the rare.
A true truffle aficionado will tell you that eating them when they are freshly harvested is the key to enjoying them at their aromatic best. That’s why so many people make a fall pilgrimage to Alba and other truffle festivals held in Italy’s Piedmont, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, and Emilia Romagna regions.
Although truffles are also grown in France, Africa and have even taken hold in the U.S. in Oregon, the highly sought after white variety only grows in Italy and Croatia. And connoisseurs favor the ones from Italy’s Piedmont Region. Typical wines paired with Alba’s white truffles include the regional Barbera and Nebiolo. And you can savor them so many different ways with pasta, pizza, or polenta and also in cheeses and salamis in markets and restaurants.
From hotels to villas to castles, you always have a range of lodging choices in Italy.
And in the Alba area a special treat is stored for you at the Castello di Sinio one of the oldest castles in the Piedmont Region. In addition to medieval ambiance for your enjoyment, they also offer cooking lessons on site and can arrange truffle hunts and winery tours. (hotelcastellodisinio.com).You can reach Alba by flying to Milan then driving through Alessandria and Asti to Alba, or fly to Milan and drive to Torino then on to Alba.
Tuscany also holds a truffle festival in the hill town of San Miniato located between Florence and Pisa in an area said to produce about one-quarter of Italy’s white truffles. San Miniato celebrates with a large open-air market where you can taste and purchase truffles as well as enjoy a variety of entertainment. Restaurants also feature reasonably priced truffle dishes. The San Miniato Truffle Fair takes place during the last three weekends in November.
Lodging in the San Miniato area includes the Empoli Hotel with rooms from around $292/night or the Relais I Melograni Bed & Breakfast in a 19th century villa with rooms priced from $292 (with a minimum 3-night stay). Check hotels.com or venere.com for other offers.
Other Truffle Festivals:
San Giovanni d’Asso (near Siena) –2nd and 3rd weekends of November.
Savigno (southwest of Bologna) – 1st, 2nd and 3rd Sundays in November.
Acqualagna (Marche Region) – weekends end of Oct – mid-Nov.
Calestano (south of Parma,) Black Truffle Fair – Sundays mid-Oct. through mid-Nov.
In addition to truffle festivals, you’ll find food festivals throughout Italy in the fall. If you have a sweet tooth and can take your own sweet time to explore be sure to add these festivals to your itinerary: Eurochocolate Festival October 19-28, 2012 in Perugia and the Torrone (nougat) Festival in Cremona.
One thing is for sure, fall in Italy is a beautiful experience that includes fall foliage, festivals, lots of entertainment and food, including the most highly prized truffles on the planet.