Alba, a small town in the northwestern region of Piemonte, is known as Italy’s white truffle capital.
Every year at this time it hosts the famous International Alba White Truffle Fair which attracts around 100,000 visitors from all over the world who come to buy, sell and smell the tasty tuber.
The season starts in October and celebrations take place over Piemonte where the white truffle or trifola d’ Alba Madonna is found.
As you enter the market, the perfume of truffles literally fills the air: Here you can see, touch, smell truffles of all shapes and sizes. This is your chance to learn all about truffles.
What is a truffle
Truffles are the fruiting bodies (sporocaps) of funghi. They are spherical in shape with a pale yellow outer layer the an inner layer of flesh that varies in colour from white to pink and brown. Black truffles are found from May to February while the important white truffle is hunted in Piemonte from Sept 21st to the end of January.
They must live in a symbiotic relationship with trees or bushes for the sporocaps to be produced. Oak forests in the area are a perfect place to find truffles .
Truffle dogs sniff out the truffles and the trifolao or truffle hunter will then carefully dig around the truffle and remove it from the ground.
The white truffle is expensive, far more more expensive than the black. They are sold by weight. On restaurant menus in Piemonte truffles will be an additional supplement. You will be told the price and the truffle weighed before and after being shaved.
The story of Alba’s fair
It was 1949 when Giacomo Morra, hotelier and restaurateur at Alba’s ”Savona” understood the huge gastronomic and touristic potential of the Tuber magnatum Pico, and he managed to deliver to Rita Hayworth the best specimen of the White Truffle of Alba of the year. The story above is just one of the countless and genial insights conceived by Giacomo Morra.
This gave birth to a tradition which, handed down through the years, is still alive today. Morra had the White Truffle of Alba delivered to, just to mention some of the most influential personalities, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Di Maggio, Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev and Pope Paul VI. Not to mention that, as early as in 1938 and in 1942, respectively, the Prince of Piedmont Umberto di Savoia and the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III, had already received some magnificent specimen of the White Truffle of Alba.
Another name indisputably tied to the Truffle trade is Roberto Ponzio who followed Giacomo Morra’s footsteps and was driven, like his illustrious predecessor, by the keen perception that it was vital to leverage on the fame of the celebrity who was given the precious hypogeous mushroom in order to enhance and emphasize the White truffle of Alba, the profit generated by the fair and the territory as well. From 1958 to 1968 some unique truffle specimen of top quality and weight were delivered to the President of the Republic Giovanni Gronchi, to Queen Elizabeth II, to King Baudouin and to the Presidents Charles de Gaulle, Antonio Segni, Giuseppe Saragat and Richard Nixon.
The tradition of sending the truffle of the year to a well-known celebrity suffered a setback in the 1970s. It all came back in 1983, when the crew of “Azzurra”was given the award, following their brilliant participation in the America’s Cup sailing regatta. From1989 onwards, the truffle was given to celebrities internationally acknowledged as standard bearer of the Italian style and name in the world. The award list includes the lawyer Gianni Agnelli, the tenor Luciano Pavarotti the fashion stylist Valentino. The 1993 award is remembered as the “Truffle of Peace” as it was given to Israel and to the Palestinian leader Arafat to celebrate their historical peace treaty signed AT the White House.
Four top restaurants picks in Alba, capital of the Langhe
Three Michelin stars and ranked as no. 15 for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017, Piazza Duomo is one of the most renowned gastronomic temples in Italy and in the world. It is the reign of Chef Enrico Crippa, who reinvents traditional dishes and brings them to the highest level of quality and perfection. If Crippa was a color, he would be green, the recurrent shade in most of his dishes, along with other vivid hues of nature. He is not vegetarian, but he loves working with flowers and herbs and he personally cultivates a vegetable garden near Alba. He believes that it is the nature itself that decides the rhythms of his cuisine and his menu.
In the same building as Piazza Duomo but located on the ground floor is its “little brother” restaurant, La Piola. In local dialect, piola indicated the village tavern or inn, but in this case the name has been chosen to highlight its familiar and relaxed atmosphere. Here, you can taste typical dishes prepared according to authentic Piedmontese recipes with high quality ingredients. The menu is written every day on the blackboard and changes with market availability and seasonality. vitello tonnato (veal with creamy tuna sauce), insalata russa (mixed vegetable salad with mayonnaise), and carne cruda (beef tartare) are evergreen menu items that will never disappoint.
When in 2005 the Ceretto family chose to open a place that offers the typical cuisine of the Langhe, the choice dictated the name. Not “a” piola but “the” Piola, a testament to the desire to be faithful interpreters of a culinary tradition that has made the Langhe one of the most famous in the world for the quality of food.
Locanda del Pilone
Anyone stopping at the Locanda del Pilone for lunch or dinner, a short break or a long holiday will have the opportunity to discover Federico Gallo cuisine.
His dishes are an innovative interpretation of the great traditions of Piedmont. The team of chefs present lively and exciting dishes that are always in tune with the season and its fruits.
The purity of ingredients, the quality of raw materials, harmonious fragrances and clean flavours are the principal values of this cuisine.
An informal but elegant restaurant which brings the cosmopolitan cuisine in the heart of the capital of the Langhe.
Luca Boffa, chef from Alba, represents the story of Caffè Umberto, whose management is in the hands of the family since the 80s, when it was already a reference point and a trendy place for the region.
The continuous experimentation and research, both in the kitchen and in the vanguard concept in catering, have brought Luca to transform Caffè Umberto in what it is today: an informal and cosmopolitan place, where recipes and flavors of the Mediterranean and the Old Continent merge in a pleasant mélange fusion.
The highest quality and freshness of raw materials, combined with a large and sophisticated wines-list, make Caffè Umberto a unique place and provide a satisfying experience for either a quick lunch break or an elegant and refined dinner.