From 2012 through 2015, I contributed to Huffington Post, writing personal essays on Italy- its food, culture and art. It was a pleasure to share what I love article with the pioneering platform, especially my newly discovered love for truffles. A version of this article was originally published on Huffington Post.
A few weeks ago, I headed up to Alba in search of the tartufo bianco, that coveted white truffle so hidden in the hard dirt of the Langhe region that finding even a small one is like striking gold, the edible kind. To prepare for this culinary adventure, I fasted on water and plain yogurt for a week. Well, not really. I just thought about it.
Visiting Alba during the truffle fair requires disclipline, and for me, that mean I had to have a game plan. I had to render palette as bland as possible when not eating truffle and drinking dolcetto, and make sure I took time out for fresh air.
If truffles are heady, the truffle fair is a headache. The entire town of Alba was (and always is) scented with truffle, with the enclosed market (where the dealing is done) intense. My plan for this trip was even more strategic: I was going to walk with tartufai, truffle hunters and their dogs.
I dedicated a very early morning with Daisy, the truffle hunting dog. Daisy’s breed is Lagotto Romagnolo, the favorite of truffle hunters for their skill and intelligence. They are trained for years in the silent, nocturnal hunt.
Her owner Gianpiero told me about cold, brutal evening hunts, pernicious colleagues whose friendly faces hid jealous agenda the minute they talked truffle skills, and life times with dogs who were not trained beasts but thick and thin friends.
Finding Alba’s bianco pregiato is finding a needle in a haystack that is buried in the dirt. The white truffle is a gnarly, dirty knuckle buried deep beneath compacted dirt which requires concentrated minutes and even hours of excavation that can sometimes lead to disappointment if you get too excited.
Daisy lived up to her reputation as the best nose in Roddi. She found me a truffle and the scent was intoxicating. I was truffle drunk and couldn’t think straight.
Dare I say that the truffle is delicious, dirty svengali that makes you believe in magic. Case in point: add a little shaved truffle to anything — eggs, melted cheese, fish, raw beef, pasta, gelato — and you’ve created deliciousness.
After inhaling the truffle scent, I wanted to head home. Alba’s fresh October/November air and its glorious green hills invigorated me and made me think about the lunch, which over the three days was always a parade of dishes starting with beef tartar followed in quick succession by tajarin, bagna cauda (roasted peppers and anchovies), fonduta (a raclette of melted fontina cheese, egg yellows and shaved truffle), omelette, and gelato al tartufo (a plain cream ice cream with truffle),and paired with Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barolo and Barbaresco.
After 72 hours non stop truffle, did I begin to dislike the scent? No but I realized all I needed was a simple dish like a fried egg or Giacomo’s favorite, a panino made of thin, alternating layers of slow, oven-baked anchovies and truffles.
What to Eat
Truffle Recipes to try include the popular tagliolini al tartufo, a pasta dish made with thin noodles and shaved truffles, risotto al tartufo, a creamy rice dish with shaved truffles, brasato al tartufo, a slow-cooked beef dish with truffle sauce and crostini al tartufo, toasted bread with truffle butter. But my favorite is a a simple fried egg with shaved truffles.
Restaurant: Ca del Lupo