Introducing the Alba white truffle.

truffle hunterIf you know a thing or two about the Piedmont region, you know this gastronomic haven offers more than just savory dishes and enchanting wines. Southwestern Piedmont is also home to the famous Tartufo bianco di Alba, the Alba white truffle.

If you’ve smelled one, you’ve experienced its intoxication. If you’ve tasted one, you understand why they are sought after all over the world.

Here at Scarpa Villas in Barolo, we have special access to this Piedmont region delicacy. We are not only minutes from the town of Alba, home to the annual Alba White Truffle Festival, but we also work closely with a special brand of trifulau, truffle hunters, who use our grounds to forage this seductive fruit of our land.

In this post, we’ll talk about the white truffle experience in our area, beginning with a look at the origin of the famed Alba white truffle.

What is the Alba White Truffle?

Let’s start with a little history. The fabled white truffle has been revered for centuries. During Roman times, it was thought to have divine powers associated with the cult of lightning and heralded as an aphrodisiac from the god Jupiter, the King of the gods.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, the classification of the truffle was hotly debated. Some labeled it a plant, others a growth from the ground, and some even suggested it was an animal. Finally, the truffle received scientific classification in 1831 by botanist Carlo Vittadini in his book, Monographia tuberacearum.

DEFINED: The Truffle

“A fruiting body of fungi belonging to the Tuber genus that makes its entire life cycle underground (hypogeum). It must obligatorily live in symbiosis with arboreal plants to produce the precious sporocarp. it is formed by an external wall called peridium, which can be smooth or sculpted and of a variable color from light to dark.” The National Center for Truffle Studies

piedmont truffle huntThe notoriety of the Piedmontese white truffle began in the 18th century when high courts all over Europe deemed it the highest quality. In the 1900s, the Alba White Truffle gained worldwide fame thanks to what today we would label an international public relations program, led by Alba innkeeper and restaurateur Giacomo Morra. Mr. Morra famously sent samples of the Alba white truffle to notable personalities, including Winston Churchill, Rita Hayworth, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, and even Pope Paul VI. Mr. Morra also was responsible for the launch of the Alba White Truffle Festival in 1928.

Hunting the Alba White Truffle

villa truffle huntLargely thanks to Mr. Morra’s efforts, the Alba white truffle has become a gastronomic treasure, putting an annual spotlight on Alba from October to November during the Alba White Truffle Festival. Tourists come to not only indulge in the truffle’s rich, savory shavings atop local foods but to also experience the traditional practice of truffle hunting.

First, it’s important to know that the white truffle cannot be cultivated; it is a naturally occurring substance, found generally at the edge of wooded areas, near trees. The white truffle flourishes in fresh and humid, marl-calcareous soil, making the hills of the Langhe and Roero fertile ground.

Here, truffle hunting requires a license. Most hunters are very secretive about their preferred hunting grounds, venturing out at night or dawn; this time of day also keeps the hunting dogs calm. The dog sniffs out the truffles and identifies the location by digging a hole. The hunter finishes the job, delicately removing it from the ground and cleaning it. The truffle is generally sold to regular customers, or at markets or fairs.

Alba White Truffle Prices

In 2017, the average white truffle per kilo reached €6000, an increase of €5,000 from five years ago, and €4,500 ten years ago.

– Analysis from farmers’ organization, Coldiretti.

truffle huntToday, Alba white truffle hunts are carried out with dogs, but once upon a time pigs were used (and, still are in some parts of the world). The shift to dogs was made because they are easier to train – and, pigs are more likely to eat their catch. In the Langhe, dogs can be trained at The Alba White Truffle University.

The Truffle Dog University

The Universitá dei Cani da Tartufo or Truffle Dog University is located about 15 minutes by car from Alba and seven minutes by car from Scarpa Villas.

The storefront features a museum that celebrates the traditions of truffle hunting, including old tools used by the trifulau. In addition, you will find paintings, photos, and books on the truffle.

The Truffle Dog University was founded in 1880 by Antonio Monchiero. The university was made official at the 5th edition of the Alba White Truffle Festival in 1935 by Count Gastone di Mirafiori. The University has remained in the family, making Giovanni Monchiero the fourth generation to run it.

The Truffle Dog University is a special partner of Scarpa Villas. The University uses parts of our land for hunting, allowing us to provide unique programs for our guests – always authentic hunts, never simulated.

 

truffle huntThe Alba White Truffle Fair 2018

If you are visiting the Piedmont region during the months of October and November, don’t miss the annual Alba White Truffle Fair. In 2018, it takes places every Saturday and Sunday from October 6th to November 25th.

The fair itself offers a number of programs, including sensory workshops, wine tastings, cooking demonstration, and more. However, the primary draw is the Truffle Market that features truffles for sale as well as other specialty items from the area.

Please note, to guarantee quality, every truffle sold is checked by a Quality Commission. The service is available to customers throughout the fair at the Consumer Help Desk.

  • Dates: Every Saturday and Sunday, October 6th to November 25th.
  • Hours: 9:30 to 19:30
  • Where: Alba White Truffle Market: Cortile della Maddalena, Alba
  • Contact: Tel.: +39.0173.361051, e-mail: info@fieradeltartufo.org
  • Prices (for advance purchase online):
    • Full ticket: € 3.50
    • Ticket for groups over 30 people: € 3.00
    • Children up to 15 years: FREE / Disabled: FREE
    • Dogs: FREE entry
    • With Wine Tasting:
      • Wine Tastings from the Alba White Truffle World Market: € 9.50 at the cash desk of the Truffle Market
      • Single ticket entry to the Alba White Truffle World Market + wine tastings: € 13.00 at the box office / € 12.00 + online presale fee
      • Entry for groups to the Alba White Truffle World Market + wine tastings: € 12.50 at the box office / € 11.00 + online presale fee

Join us during truffle season!

Villas guests can enjoy a personal chef who can prepare a feast of traditional foods, topped with all the truffle shavings your heart desires – of course, we’ll arrange for your own personal truffle hunt to find them.

Photo Credit: Andrew Taylor PhotographyValerie Quintanilla