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Every Truffledog Has Its Day

Last week I died a truffle-hunting death and went to gastronomic heaven: the annual white truffle fair in Alba.

There is no better introduction to the often-overlooked region of Piemonte than Alba’s truffle fair. The local tartufo bianco is Italy’s ultimate gastronomic prize: an elusive seasonal delicacy shrouded in gourmet mystique. Very expensive and unspeakably delicious. For five weeks every autumn the Piemontese truffledogs go barking mad—and the entire region goes hog-wild for truffles.

The fair centres on the truffle market in Alba’s Cortile della Maddalena; every weekend hundreds oftrifolau (truffle-hunters) crowd into the square to flog their precious wares. You have no choice but to follow your nose—the overwhelmingly pungent truffle aroma is staggering. The prices are too—the going rate this year ranged from 1800 to 3200 EUR per kilo. Alba hosts countless cultural and artistic events during the fair (most of them involving mountains of shaved truffles washed down with bottles of Barolo and Barbaresco wine), culminating in the glitzy ‘White Truffle World Auction’ held in Grinzane Castle. This year’s mammoth 936g prize truffle sold for 105,000 EUR, to a chef bidding via satellite from Hong Kong.

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a hundred grand to get your dose: Alba is overendowed with superb restaurants (to mention a few: Trattoria della Posta and Locanda nel Borgo Antico in the Barolo region; Trattoria Antica Torre (+39 0173 635170) in Barbaresco; Enoclub and Osteria dell’Arco in Alba itself). The formidable local chefs know exactly what to do with their funky white fungi: during a week in Piemonte I sampled truffles shaved onto fried eggs, folded onto omelettes, stirred into eggs en cocotte, sitting astride a ball of risotto, piled onto tajarin pasta, tucked betweenagnolotti, chopped into carne cruda (veal tartare) and melted into cheese fonduta. And, last but not least, even pared onto pizza.

The ultimate truffle high, however, is digging up your own. To do so you’ll need the help of a localtrifolau (unless you bring your own personal trufflepig). I was aided in my quest by a master truffle-hunter from Barolo, Aldo Alessandria, and his champion labrador, Micky. We spent an afternoon with our noses to the ground, scrambling up wooded slopes and down muddy ditches. Micky was on top form, barking up all the right trees, and we were handsomely rewarded with five little truffle-trophies (which brought Aldo’s total haul for the day to a whopping 437g).

There’s nothing quite like having found your truffles and then eating them too. As luck would have it, Aldo’s sister Bruna is a chef; back at their place she showed me how to hand-make the local tajarinpasta. Which we then ate for dinner, smothered in our very own tartufi bianchi. A dish I would happily die for.

Rudston Steward is our Italian guineapig, Trufflepig, truffledog and truffle-taster, and one of the only men in the world we are jealous of. He’s recently finished guiding a customized truffle trip in Piemonte for some clients who dared ask for a truffle-hunting trip, and got what they deserved: exactly that.

The local tartufo bianco is Italy's ultimate gastronomic prize: an elusive seasonal delicacy shrouded in gourmet mystique.

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