There is only one word to describe the atmosphere in Alba, Piemonte during the chilly autumn: heady. The word heady defines not only the dizzying scent of truffles but the almost uncontrollable frenzy in the fair, the streets and the restaurants. And heady is the feeling I get when ever I set foot in Alba.
My love for truffles is thanks to my gastro-curious college roommate Jennifer. While everyone else was boy crazy, Jen was an obsessive foodie before #foodies existed. She had just returned home from a semester in Florence and told a tale of a town that made you drunk on its smell. “Alba in a bottle”, she whispered as she showed us a tiny bottle. She quickly fried up an egg and sprinkled a drop of the precocious oil. Its weird, heady smell haunted me for a few years. But it wasn’t enough, I needed to visit Alba for the Fiera del Tartufo.
Fiera del Tartufo
The Fiera del Tartufo (Truffle Festival) in Alba is an annual event that celebrates one of the most coveted culinary delicacies in the world – Alba’s white truffle. Each year, the festival draws thousands of visitors who come to indulge in the gastronomic delights of the region and everything that goes with it from truffle hunting (read about my experience) to dishes to truffle-based products.
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 is palpable. It’s a frenzy as everyone wants to be part of the truffle-related activities like cooking demonstrations, truffle hunting excursions, and tastings of truffle-infused dishes and wines. And everyone wants to experience the World White Truffle Auction, where bidders from around the world compete for the largest and most prized truffles.
My experiences at the fair have ranged from intense to chaotic. I spend most of my time tasting and can say I’ve had a few days with multiple lunches and dinners because there’s just one way to experience the pleasure of the white truffle: raw. Unlike the black truffle, whose flavor is unleashed when heated or cooked with other ingredients, the white truffle is best enjoyed shaved onto dishes like fried egg, tajarin pasta or beef tartare. Do I ever get sick of truffle? Absolutely not, especially when accompanied by a glass of Dolcetto d’Alba.
Contemporary Art in Alba
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. I also love visiting Alba for contemporary art. This tiny city, with Roman ruins, is also an enclave of great modern and contemporary art.
Piazza Duomo, the incredible Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by Enrico Crippa has the most beautiful Francesco Clemente frescoes. The Ceretto Family, owners of Piazza Duomo, as well as La Piola (my favorite Alba restaurant) and the incredible Barolo producing Ceretto Vineyards invest in art all over the territory. A vineyard walk will take you to the family’s site specific outdoor installations and the unforgettable Barolo Chapel.
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, FSRR, Torino’s awesome contemporary art foundation with its country site Palazzo Re Rebaudengo, an art park and artist enclave for international as well as emerging artists. About 30 minutes from Alba, it’s definitely worth the detour.