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Get Your Fix in Alba

When the calendar ticks over from September to October, you’ll find me salivating at the gates of the the International White Truffle Fair in Alba, Piemonte.

As if being home to the greatest Italian red wine of all, Barolo (I’ll brook no arguments), were not enough, Alba also just happens to be the epicenter of trade in Italy’s top culinary commodity — the white truffle, aka, Tuber magnatum pico. The combination is perilously addictive — it’s a veritable gastronomic speedball — the tingling euphoric rush of pungent truffle to the nose, coupled with the deep meditative power of a vintage Barolo slowly coursing through your veins. I call it the ultimate Italian foodie high.

The Fair runs at white truffle peak season, 2013 will run from the first weekend in October through the third weekend in November. During that stretch Alba puts on a spectacular series of edible and cultural events over successive weekends. One of the highlights is the famous donkey Palio race, held the first weekend in October. Put on essentially to mock the town of Asti down the road (the rivalry goes back a mere thousand years or so), the race is a bona fide comedy of errors. Preceded by a lavish medieval procession and theatrical pageantry in which key moments of Alba’s history are reenacted, the race itself is hilarious — the stubborn donkeys refuse to run, or go backwards, bite their riders, and eventually have to be dragged across the finish line by their desperate jockeys.

During Fair weekends all manner of mouth-watering local produce and toothsome specialties crowd the market stalls that line Alba’s streets, and then there’s the truffle market itself, a covered courtyard where the local trifolau truffle hunters come to peddle their wares. Stepping into that courtyard is something akin to olfactory overdose as your nose struggles to cope with the pervasive and powerful scent emanating from the mounds of tubers. The shock is exacerbated by the steep price-tags: given the overly dry weather last year the going rates at the 2012 fair were in the €3000-€6000 per kilo range. Thankfully, truffle hunters are not averse to a bit of haggling, so if you’re prepared to bargain hard you can come away with a decent truffle for your dinner — and still have enough reserve liquidity for a fine bottle of Riserva to round off your meal.

So if you’re thinking of an Autumn trip to Italy this year be sure to plan a pitstop in Piemont, for a weekend at the Fair in Alba. As your Piemontese foodie pusher, I promise to get you gastronomically high, ply you with vintage Barolo, and send you home an incurable truffle-junkie.

Rudston is a Barolo bully and a Truffle tyrant. Call him up to challenge his Barolo assertion or just to chat truffles and Piemonte. 

The combination is perilously addictive — it's a veritable gastronomic speedball

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