The white truffle – tartufo bianco – is the shining diamond in Piemonte’s culinary treasure chest. This unique speciality boasts an astonishing array of different, yet harmonizing flavours – from comforting honey to striking garlic, spices and aromatic mushroom. It was regarded by the ancient Romans as an aphrodisiac, used by the gods to effectively seduce unwitting paramours. These days, it is the star of one of the region’s most famous festivals, the Ente Fiera Internazionale Tartufo Bianco d’Alba.
The Alba Truffle Fair was first held in 1929 by the King of Truffles, Giacomo Morra. He sought to heighten the export potential of this most treasured product by placing the international spotlight on the town of Alba, purveyor of some of the most exquisite truffles in the world. Not only did the first exhibitions boost the reputation of Alba in the tourism stakes, but it also made the white truffle one of the most sought-after gastronomic delicacies worldwide.
Morra’s “truffle renaissance” also led to a boost in jobs in the region. Truffle hunters, armed with battalions of sharp-nosed dogs and pigs, flocked to Alba for the chance to strike gold in the culinary stakes. This truffle-rush also attracted various traders, cooks and experts in truffle preservation and appreciation.
Alba became the go-to spot for members of the contemporary cultural elite. Giacomo Morra gave away truffles to famous figures like Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock. Morra also honoured American presidents with this most delectable gift. Legend has it that when President Harry Truman was delivered a truffle in 1951, he posted the following note to Morra: “Thank you for the potato. Unfortunately it must have gone bad during the journey and we had to throw it away.”
The events of the Fair honour the very best of what Alba has to offer. The events stretch from early October to mid-November. They culminate in a high-profile world auction, in which celebrities in entertainment, culture and sport bid for the best yields of the harvest season. The auction is held in the Grinzane Cavour Castle, and all proceeds go to international philanthropic organisations.
Other festivities include the Paglio Degli Asini, or Donkey Race. This popular event celebrates the town’s natural competitive spirit, and showcases the talents of various donkey racers in the region. It is preceded by a spectacular 1000-person medieval parade. Alba’s streets come alive with citizens bedecked in colourful costumes of the period. Commencing in the Piazza Osvaldo Cognasso, the procession is complimented by various re-enactments of medieval life in Alba – and you’ll be sure to spot your fair share of noblewomen, knights and peasants.
Piedmontese food and wine is in abundance, with many famous local dishes being showcased during the Bacchanal, a celebration that is dedicated to the lush agricultural heritage of Alba. Here, you will get to experiment with some of Piedmonte’s most famous wines, including Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as Roero Arneis, Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba. These wines are worthy partners to some of Alba’s most scrumptious truffle specialities, including tajarin con tartufo (golden threads of delicious egg pasta and truffle shavings) and truffle risotto.