‘Tis the Season….for Truffles!

The highlight of my weekend jaunt to Torino, which in reality I saw very little of, was a Saturday lunch in the Piemontese countryside. I had never been. Driving about an hour and half south-east of the city, the scenery becomes vastly different. The air feels different. You feel different. Rolling hills, soft slopes, raised plateaus, and abrupt peaks are all part of the landscape. And vines, rows and rows of vines, which not too long ago held ripe little globes which will eventually become delicious wine.  This autumn for some reason I am really missing the weather and change in foliage characteristic of New England, where I was born and raised. Unexpectedly though, the Piemontese countryside was so reminiscent of this. Bold, rich hues. Leaves turning from shades of green to yellows, oranges, and reds. Low grey skies with touches of sunlight streaming through the mist. I wish I would have had more time to bask in the natural beauty of this place but my truffles were waiting.

In the region of Piemonte, one of Italy’s gastronomic capitals, and more specifically, Alba, lays the coveted white tartufo, or truffle. But the tartufo is more than just a mushroom. Renowned and very rare, this delicacy is cultivated in the months of October and November and is characterized by its shape and intense aroma and flavor. The white truffle is harvested by the trifulau (truffle hunter) and their specially trained dogs, who sniff-out the prized fungi from deep within the earth. The tartufo grows wild, close to the roots of the oak tree and these are the most sought after. It is particularly important to note that the white truffle cannot be cultivated. It is absolutely something that must grow naturally, making the yields different each year  and causing the price to fluctuate.  When cut open, their dusty, lumpy appearance gives way to a tan, creamy interior with fine white veins running through. To maintain and enjoy the characteristic aroma and flavor, the white truffle is not cooked but rather thinly shaved on particular dishes such as buttery pasta or risotto, scrambled eggs, meats, and other local dishes.

Lunch began at 2pm at  Trattoria della Posta da Camulin, a warm, rustic characteristic trattoria in Cossano Belbo (Cuneo). There was no menu (the best kind!) and after a few minutes that waiter came over and quickly listed those dishes that came with the tartufo. After our selection of 5 different antipasti, I opted for a most traditional dish, fresh, buttered tagliolini (a long, thin egg pasta made that morning by the owner’s mother) with white tartufo generously shaved on top. The below picture really does not do it justice but I’m sure my cameraiphone skills or lack thereof have something to do with this as well. It was one of the simplest dishes with the most complex tastes I had ever had. The intense, earthy flavor of the white tartufo married perfectly with the buttery creaminess of the tagliolini.

Tagliolini with white tartufo!

I strongly suggest planning a trip to this area of Italy, and more importantly Alba, especially during this time of year. There are festivals celebrating the tartufo, such as the annual White Truffle Festival which takes place in the center of Alba, and other food and wine specialties. As a side note, this region is also home to some of the most prestigious and renowned wines, such as Barolo, Barbera, Barbaresco and Dolcetto. Needless to say it was a fantastic afternoon and one I would love to repeat. The landscape, atmosphere, history and local cuisine are certainly the stuff of an epicurean’s dream.

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