All about Alba, Italy’s gourmet capital - and the home of truffles.
The competition is stiff, but the Langhe, an area in the northwestern Piedmont region, might just be the most luxurious place in Italy. It’s home to some truly iconic delicacies, including rich, buttery hazelnuts, prized red wines, chocolate, and truffles. Its vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and world-famous Langhe wines include Barolo and Barbaresco, which can be aged for decades and are considered intensely collectible, sometimes selling for thousands of dollars a bottle. The Ferrero chocolate company is headquartered here, and the area is the birthplace of the hazelnut-chocolate blend gianduja, most widely known in Ferrero’s signature spread Nutella.
The heart of the truffle trade is the small Langhe town of Alba. With a population of 30,000 and gorgeous red-brick architecture, this town full of medieval history is also known as the City of a Hundred Towers. Just outside the city walls are rolling hills thick with native oak forests, where the gourmet delicacy known locally as tartufo grows nestled among the tree roots.
There are three commonly harvested types of truffles, all of which can be found in the forested hillsides around Alba. Each is highly prized by chefs and enthusiasts for their unique flavor profiles; black winter truffles are earthy and pungent, while summer truffles are more delicate, with a sweet, nutty character. Then there are the ultra-rare white Alba truffles, which only grow in Alba. They are harvested in the late fall months and can only be foraged, never cultivated, making their discovery something of a natural miracle. They are prized for their deep umami flavor, similar to aged cheese.
While you may be familiar with the delightfully adorable practice of truffle hunters using pigs to sniff out the precious delicacies, in Italy, dogs are more commonly used. The Lagotto Romagnolo, a curly-haired teddy bear of a pup, is known as Italy’s truffle-sniffing breed, though trifulaos (truffle hunters) can work with many types of scent-seeking dogs. Working together, these friends comb the oak forests around Alba, looking for the trademark moist soil and, of course, smell, that indicates that truffles are lurking beneath the surface.
Of course, this being Italy, there has to be a festival celebrating this regional specialty! That would be the Fiera Internazionale Tartufo Bianco d’Alba, which takes place over two months in the late fall and features a donkey race, historical reenactments, and, of course, plenty of truffle tastings. Yes, a donkey race! Each of the city’s neighborhoods elects a donkey to represent it in this race, and the winner is a matter of intense local pride. First held in 1933, the fair is now in its 92nd year.
Can’t make it to Alba to try its famous white truffles? We partner with local experts Tartuflanghe (that’s tartufo + Langhe) to make some of their incredible truffle products available. The family-run company are the stewards of 50 acres of lush woodland outside Alba, where they harvest all three kinds of the precious tuber. From infused pastas and condiments to pure slices of aromatic truffle, they’ll transport you right to the heart of the Langhe.