There is only one word to describe the atmosphere an Alba in autumn: heady, and that sole word heady covers not just the truffles but the almost uncontrollable frenzy in the fair and the restauranteurs, the craze on Alba’s narrow main street and the vibe from the foodies, writers and photographers who pop up with far more frequency than the coveted tuber. And heady is the feeling I get when ever I set foot in Piemonte. Let’s start with Alba.
A long time ago, my college roommate Jennifer introduced me to Alba and its tartufo. While everyone else was boy crazy, Jen was gastro-curious, an obsessive foodie before #foodies existed. She was relentless in her pursuit of tastebud happiness, making us eat her gourmet experiments and dragging us into adventures where only the food voracious survived. When she returned home from a semester in Florence, she told us tales of a town that made you drunk on its smell while brandishing a tiny bottle of precious truffle oil in her hand. And that night, she made us eat what I thought was the simplest of perfect- a fried egg with just a drop of that precocious oil. [On a culinary side note, Jen eventually found HomeCookingNY, teaching New Yorkers how to cook in their own kitchens]. That weird, heady smell haunted me for a few years. I bought the oil and dripped it on egg sandwiches. But it wasn’t right. I needed to visit Alba for the Fiera del Tartufo.
Truffles smell, taste and feel delicious, but for me, the look (including the cute tartufaio – truffle hunters – and dogs) is not enough to satisfy my carnal cravings. My intent on visiting Alba had a secret motive: Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, FSRR, Torino’s awesome contemporary art foundation. For the record, Piemonte is a cash cow of contemporary art whose foundations, galleries and museums I hope to continue writing about. Following a weekend in Alba, my buona forchetta friend Charlotte took the wheel for a nearly two hours to Torino to visit just to walk around contemporary art, not realizing that 20 minutes (by car) from Alba is Guarene d’Alba where the country wing of FSSR – Palazzo Re Rebaudengo– resides. Palazzo Re Rebaudengo is the energetic little sister to Torino’s FSRR hub. Hosting international as well as emerging artists, it is a contemporary art enclave and artist residency in the middle of truffle-land. Definitely worth the detour.