Home  /  Blog  /  Current Page

The little town of Alba, nestled in the hills of the the Piedmont region of Italy, is probably most well known for its annual White Truffle Fair.  Several years ago, on a trip to visit my parents, we had heard about this festival from Marco, the famed restauranteur and co-owner of the Palm Springs institution Cheeky’s.  He told us stories about how you can go on a truffle hunt, buy your own truffle, and carry it around with you to various restaurants so you can grate it on top of your own food.  This sounded like a really unique experience and we mentally filed it away as something that we would love to try someday.

The truffle fair did turn out to be really cool, but we ended up falling in love with the entire Piedmont region.  The region around Alba consists of seemingly endless rolling hilltops, many of which are capped by a church and small village.  We stayed in the countryside at a wonderful and extremely affordable bed and breakfast called Casa Le Vigne.  Our “room” turned out to be a full apartment with a kitchen that was surrounded by a forrest, several plots of hazelnut, kiwi and persimmon trees and other assorted fruit and herb gardens.  The leaves on the rolling hills were just starting to turn a gorgeous shade of red.  The property was owned and maintained by a nice old man named Giorgio who lived in the main house.  He was really friendly but he spoke almost no English.  Luckily, his daughter Manuela (who grew up on the property) and her boyfriend William came to visit for the weekend and they spoke fluent English.  They gave us a walking tour around the massive property and we all ended up becoming friends.  They even invited us into the main house for a traditional Italian Sunday lunch of truffle salumi, vinegar-based esophagus (!!), butterfly pasta, rib meat with potato and grapes and dolcetto wine to wash it all down with.

Although the property was beautiful, our main reason for going to Piedmont was to try to go on a real truffle hunt.  I had done quite a bit of research and learned that all of the hunts that were organized by the festival were “simulated hunts” where they hide a truffle before-hand.  The reasoning was that real truffle hunters were very secretive about the location of their hunting grounds and therefore would not share it with tourists.  Not to be deterred, I kept searching and finally got in touch with Giuseppe and his dog Luna.  They agreed to take us on a real hunt  and we settled on a time via email.  Unfortunately that time was about 15 minutes from when we checked in to our room!  So I called him on my cell phone and let him know we were on our way but that we may be a little late.  He was very upset and told us (in a thick Piedmontese accent) that the town where we were meeting was 30 minutes away and we would never make it on time and the dog would be out too long and so we wouldn’t be able to do the hunt.  We told him just to hold on and that we would do our best to get there in time.  So we jumped in our rented Lancia and Amanda (who has much more experience driving with a manual transmission) flew down and around the winding hills.  10 minutes later, we arrived at the meeting point, and actually even beat him there!  When Giuseppe pulled up in his classic Fiat, with Luna the dog bouncing around in the back, he looked shocked and yelled “You must be Shumacher!”.

We then followed them a few more km into a small clearing in the forrest where we changed into the rain boots that he provided.  Then, with the sun rapidly setting, we took off into the forrest with Luna leading the way.  We learned all about the traditions behind the hunt,  the training and raising of the dog, and the different varieties of truffles.   We also learned that in Italy they use dogs for hunting (as opposed to pigs) because the dogs are easier to control and to stop from eating or damaging the truffle when they find it.  Luna was a pretty talented dog and by the end of the hour, she had found 4 truffles (three black and one white).  her job was to sniff out the general location in the roots of the oak trees and then Giuseppe would use a small pick-like tool to scrape away the dirt and dig it up.  He even let us help with the digging.  That’s a lot of trust to put in someone over something that sells for hundreds of euros!   We were really happy with the outcome of the hunt but we didn’t get to eat or keep any of the truffles since they are basically his livelihood.  It was a great experience though and we highly recommend it.

The next morning we went into the main town of Alba for the actual truffle fair.  There was a big event hall with booths set up by local farmers from all over the region.  We were able to sample artisanal salamis, hams and cheeses, may of which contained truffles.  There were also many vendors selling and giving tastes of Barolo and Barbaresco wine.  In the middle of the hall, the truffle hunters had set up booths selling truffles from the previous night’s hunt.  They ranged from marble sized (20 Euro) to baseball sized (500+ Euro).  There was also a judging booth where you could take a truffle before you purchase it.  The judges would weigh, touch, and smell the truffle to make sure you were paying a fair price.  We ended up buying a really small one, and later took it to a restaurant where it was grated on top of a crepe filled with alfredo and two bowls of tagliatelle pasta with butter.  Then we had boar for the main course (because the waitresse’s brother and father were boar hunters).  It was all so simple but it was one of the best meals we had ever eaten.

That evening we went to the medieval festival in the old town of Alba which turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole festival.  Everyone was dressed in Italian Renaissance clothing, and in the plaza around the cathedral, they had set up a variety of medieval games.  The best part was that the prize for all of the games was either a cup or bottle of wine!  So needless to say, everyone was having a very good time.  There were also four food stations, all of which had a truffle theme.  There were roasted meats, stews, with polenta, tartufo pastas and puff pastries with truffle cream.  We didn’t get to try everything but the ones that we did try were incredible.

We spent our last day driving to some of the surrounding villages and trying some of the local Barolo wines.  Barolo is known locally as the “King of Wines” or “Wine of Kings” and typically has a price to match.  After tasting it at several of the top wineries, we really weren’t impressed though.  We usually preferred the 5 or 6 Euro Nebbiolos or Barbarescos to the 30+ Euro Barolos.  The drive through villages surrounded by autumn leaves was beautiful though and we had a nice picnic with some of the meats and cheeses that we had bought at the festival.  The region around Alba was so idyllic and beautiful and we were sad to leave our new friends at Le Vigne, but it was time to head back to a big city and explore Milan.

  • Truffle Hunting near Alba
  • Luna the Truffle Dog
  • Amanda Digging for Truffles
  • Adam Digging For Truffles
  • Choosing a Truffle
  • Basket of White Truffles
  • Truffles for Sale
  • Truffles for Sale
  • Smells Heavenly!
  • Truffle Meat in Alba
  • Formaggio al Tartufo
  • Fishing for Wine in Alba
  • Win Us a Wine Bottle!
  • Roast Pig Face
  • Italian Carney
  • Alba Truffle Fair
  • Wine Jug in Alba
  • Vat of Cheese
  • Renaissance Fair in Alba
  • Esophagus
  • Stone Angel at Le Vigne
  • Stone Angel with Adam Face
  • Spigot
  • Gazing out over the Piedmont Landscape
  • Amanda Walking through the Farm
  • Italian Kiwi
  • Autumn Red Grape Vines
  • Fresh Hazelnuts
  • William, Manuela, Giorgio, Amanda at Le Vigne
  • Adam and Amanda at Le Vigne
  • Our Happy Truffle
  • Inside of the Truffle
  • Grating White Truffle on Pasta
  • The Best Meal
  • White Truffle and Tagliatelle
  • My Birthday Barolo
  • Barolo
  • Amanda in Piedmont
  • Barolo Town
  • Mango Town
  • No Mangos!
  • Village Near Alba

Posted: July 25, 2013

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Blog, Continents, Europe, Italy


Leave a Reply