At upwards of $1,000 a pound, white truffles (tartufi bianchi) are among the most expensive foods in the world so it's a good thing that you only need a pinch to make any dish fit for a king. Famous for their aroma and taste, truffles are the jewels in Italy's gastronomic crown and the fall sees the peak in the truffle hunting, cooking and savoring season.
Nowhere is the truffle so revered as in the town of Alba in Italy's northern Piemonte region. The 78th Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d'Alba (www.fieradeltartufo.org/en), Alba's famous annual International White Truffle Fair runs throughout October until November 9, 2008 and it is part of an entire month (October) that celebrates Italy's passion for the harvest season with food fairs throughout the country including the Salone del Gusto (www.salonedelgusto.com) world expo of the Slow Food movement from October 23 to 27, 2008 in Torino and Perugia puts on the delectable Eurochocolate (www.eurochocolate.com/en/perugia2008/home.html) from October 18 to 26, 2008. This year the Truffle Fair is being held at Piazza Medford, transforming the square into a virtual truffle ground. Visitors will enter an indoor wood and surrounded by sound, music, and scents of trees, leafs, and wet soil. There is also the traditional donkey race, a Truffle Bacchanal, a local wine festival, the Alba White Truffle Market (Mercato Mondiale del Tartufo Bianco d'Alba) and several truffle-themed cultural events. Although there are events during the week and certainly truffle dishes to enjoy at restaurants throughout the city, weekends are the main draw cards with the fair open from 9am to 8pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The fair itself is free but entry to the Alba White Truffle World Market is €3 and children up to ten years old enter free.
Whereas the region of Piemonte is particularly renowned as the Italian truffle capital, Tuscany Umbria, and Le Marche also share in the reputation of producing the world's finest fungi. Traveling in these regions during the autumn months will undoubtedly bring you face to face with truffle mania, with restaurants serving up delicately infused truffle delicacies.
The Tuscan towns of San Miniato, Volterra, and Palaia hold a series of truffle inspired festivals and activities through the months of October and November. The Volterra White Truffle Festival starts on October 29 and goes through to November 6, 2008. During the festival stands are set up around the town offering truffle displays, tastings, and an opportunity to purchase locally grown truffle products. The medieval town of Palaia hosts the Chestnut, Truffle and New Wine Fair on the last Sunday in October (the 26th in 2008) and during the last three weekends in November, the White Truffle Fair takes place in the medieval town of San Miniato, a few miles outside Pisa. The main squares, Piazza del Populo and Piazza della Repubblica become truffle central with tents set up in front of the cathedral, delicious discounted truffle products, locally produced wines, cheese and salami, olive oil, grappa, and handicrafts. There are also parades, special performances, and restaurants in the area also offer delicious truffle-based specialties during this period. The Le Marche town of Acqualagna (www.acqualagna.com) near the city of Urbino, boasts truffles throughout the year (black and white ) but autumn is peak season and the last weekend in October and the first two weekends of November bring the famed National Truffle Fair, now in its 43rd year. Here you can go on city sponsored truffle hunts in the nearby forests as well as purchase truffles aplenty in stores and stands set up in the central square.
Gourmet on Tour (www.gourmetontour.com) runs short-stay truffle inspired adventures in Umbria where participants have the opportunity to accompany local hunters as they look for elusive white truffles and porcini mushrooms.Â The truffle package includes two nights accommodations in a spacious double room in a 17th century palazzo nestling in the hills of Umbria, buffet breakfast every morning, including home made pastries, a private morning of truffle hunting, lunch with a truffle or porcini theme after the hunt, a gourmet dinner, an Umbrian wine tasting and a gift on departure. The price per person is €475 including tax. This special trip is available November 15, 2008.
Italy and Wine Tours (tel. +39/3-31874-9912; www.italyandwine.net/culinary-tours/truffles.htm) runs truffle hunting Tuscany days trips from mid October until the end of April. The tour from Florence includes private transportation, a private walking tour through the forest near the town of Anghiari with a professional truffle hunter and dogs, a visit to the middle-ages town on the Tevere River, plus an English speaking guide. For groups of six, the price for the tour is €120 per person, €150 for four or €200 per person if there are only two people. For an additional €40 per person they can arrange a delicious dinner truffle menu dinner is a traditional trattoria with menu items like cheese maker's toast with black truffle, beans, and tomato soup with truffle, Pappardelle with truffle and Parmesan cheese, Tagliata beef with truffle and a seasonal fruit tart.
Off the Beaten Strada (tel. 888/436-8901; www.offthebeatenstrada.com/packages/umbria/bella-autumn.htm) has a semi-independent experiential tour entitled "Olive Oil, Truffles and Vino -- Bella Autumn in Umbria." The eight day tour from Monteleone, a short train ride away from Rome, Florence or Siena, is designed for families or friends traveling together in a vehicle (you'll need to rent a car or Off the Beaten Strada can arrange a rental for you) and will run from November 8 to 15, 2008 for $1095 per person land only. Participate in the gathering and pressing of olives, join a local farmer and his dog on a countryside search for Italian truffles and enjoy a private visit to a traditional winery. The trip includes seven nights accommodation at Il Sorbo Casa Vacanze, a characteristic stone farmhouse surrounded by ancient olive groves and sweeping views of Tuscany and Umbria; a half-day olive collecting and pressing experience; an Umbrian countryside truffle search; truffle antipasti tasting with local truffle expert, Doriana Moretti; a visit to a castle winery in the forest and impressive estate surrounded by vineyards (Ficulle and Montegabbione) with private tastings and tours; three four-course lunches; transportation to/from tour and lunch sites; entrance fees and gratuities.
La Casa Del Trifulau (tel. +39/347-299-1832; www.lacasadeltrifulau.it) in the Monferrato area of Piedmont is a truffle company that produces various specialty food products and hosts truffle hunting tours. It also has a small interpretive museum on the premises. During the white truffle season (mid September to January), groups of one to two people can enjoy a three-hour tour that includes detailed explanations of the history and characteristics of truffles, a visit to the truffle processing area, hunting with the specially trained dogs on the premises, a visit to the museum and wine and truffle tastings. The cost is €140 or if there are three to five people in your group, €170. Booking must be made in advance.
Relais La Corte (tel. +39/141-769-109; www.agrilacorte.com), a country style hotel, restaurant and winery near the town of Calamandrana, a little over an hour's drive from Torino puts together Agri-tourism packages in association with La Casa Del Trifulau over the fall months. The three-day weekend program includes two nights accommodations; two lunches and two dinners, a half-day Piemontese cooking class preparing three traditional dishes; a half-day Piemontese wine course; a half-day session learning about truffles with "sensory demonstrations" (tastings) and truffle hunting at LA Casa Del Trifulau; and all transportation between venues. The inclusive price is €285 per person.
In the Piemonte region, you can stay in style while visiting the truffle growing areas or attending the Alba Truffle Fair. There are several castles that offer accommodations that won't break the bank, leaving you with enough Euro to dine on truffle delicacies without too much guilt. A few suggestions include:
- Castello di Pavone (www.castellodipavone.com) located just north of Torino is a four-star impressive medieval fairy-tale style castle offering double rooms on a bed and breakfast basis from €165 per night.
- Castello di Santa Vittoria (www.santavittoria.org) sits on a hill dominating the medieval village of Alba, with ancient walls, elegant antique furnished rooms and panoramic views of the wooded valleys below. Double rooms with breakfast in this four star property start from €140 per night.
- Castello di Razzano (www.castellodirazzano.it) hotel and winery is located near the town of Asti in the Monferrato area. Double rooms with breakfast from €110 per night.
In San Miniato, try the beautiful early 17th century four-star Villa Sonnino (www.villasonnino.com) with double rooms including breakfast from €89 per night.