This is the first post in the Around the World Birthday Extravaganza Series. Because there will be many, many posts in this series, I will list all other posts from this series at the bottom of the post.
It is a place that I have dreamt about visiting for years.
I am a huge white truffle fan, and Alba, Italy is the home of the white truffle. I take full advantage of the fact that my November birthday allows me to occasionally indulge in this luxurious treat as a way to celebrate. So yes, I've had white truffles here and there, but I always wondered what it would be like to visit Alba, the home of the white truffle.
White truffles are unique because they can't be cultivated. There's something magical about the soil, the climate, elevation, and general conditions around Alba that make it one of the only places in the world where white truffles will grow. They grow near the roots of trees in the damp Piedmontese forests, and it takes specially trained dogs to find them.
Truffles only grow for a few months out of the year, starting around September until around December. Furthermore, they don't keep, so you have to eat them fresh.
My goal was to visit Alba during this special season. I especially wanted to visit the Alba White Truffle Fair, a weekend fair that goes on for six weeks during truffle season.
We barely made it, arriving in Milan International Airport on Saturday, November 14th, the absolutely last weekend of the Truffle Fair. After a 2+ hour drive to Alba city center and then a short drive up a mountain, we arrived at our lovely, lovely hotel.
Villa La Favorita is a beautiful and quaint family-owned hotel. The owners are warm, hospital, and super helpful. It's located just a bit outside the city center because it is situated on top of one of the many, beautiful rolling hills in the area.
They have a tiny vineyard in the back, and they even make their own wine (all guests receive a bottle!).
We enjoyed a beautiful array of fresh pastries, locally cured meats, fresh fruit, and a hot breakfast every morning. They were so accommodating, even getting up super early to cook us breakfast before our 6:30AM pick up for the airport.
Though the hotel was a bit outside the city, the walk into the city is quite pleasant. After walking down the main road for about 5 minutes, there are some stairs that lead towards a gorgeous dirt path straight down the hill. It's definitely a much more direct route than the windy highway that meanders its way down the hill.
Here I am at the beginning of the wooden steps.
This is the beautiful path that leads right into the city (you can see it straight ahead!).
Alba is one of the bigger towns in the Piedmont region, a region mostly peppered with much, much smaller towns throughout. Alba has a nice selection of restaurants, shops, and really cute streets to explore.
We walked around town a bit, checking out an outdoor market as well as window shopping. Of course, our main purpose was to visit the Alba Truffle Fair, which (thankfully), was open all day and even into the early evening (I think it closed at around 8PM?).
And then we found it!
And was it CROWDED! There were tons of vendors, selling everything from wine, cheese, and pasta to all different sorts of truffles. We purchased our tickets, springing for the slightly more expensive ticket because it includes a wine glass that you can carry around for the various wine tastings (it was like 9 Euros each).
There were rows and rows of white truffle vendors. The smell was INTOXICATING.
Just imagine, hundreds of white truffles all under one roof. It was the most intense white truffle aroma I had ever experienced.
It was the best when they let you hold and smell one close up. So fragrant! (Yes, I think the truffle vendor is amused by me.)
They even had a truffle inspector on site to examine your white truffle so you could make sure you got an authentic one.
By that point, we were pretty hungry and wanted some lunch. We made a beeline to the back of the building, where we found a counter where we could order a few simple Italian dishes, all with the option of adding shaved white truffles on top (of course).
We ordered a fried egg, beef tartare, and a simple pasta with butter, all with shaved white truffles on top. We would soon discover that these are the three most recommended dishes to eat with white truffles (for good reason, too - they highlight the truffle flavor the best).
We stood at these standing tables and devoured everything. It was our first real meal in Italy, and it was great. It wasn't cheap (I think our entire meal, which included a glass of barolo, was aroujnd 80+ Euros), but then white truffles are still kind of expensive, even in Alba.
We then went around and sampled all sorts of wine. The Piedmont region includes Barolo, Barbaresca, and many other wine producing regions. The only "problem" with wine tasting at this event is that the truffle smell is so strong, it's a bit harder to taste the nuances of the wines!
Can it even be possible, too much white truffle??!
On top of wine and truffles, there are many other fun things to try at the White Truffle Fair, such as spirits (see Bryan above!), cured meats, pastas, and all different types of food that incorporate truffles (e.g., truffle honey, truffle cheese, truffle butter, truffle pasta, and the like).
This cheese was really tasty, and he was passing out free samples! I loved the salame with white truffles!
Barolo or Tartufo pasta anyone?
Lardo or various cured meats with white truffles on top?
We spent a bit more time walking around the town of Alba before 8PM, which is when restaurants open for dinner.
Even if you miss the truffle festival, there are tons of places selling white truffles in the town. It's magical to walk into a shop while the vendors are showcasing their truffles (i.e. have opened up the protective glass case for a customer). The smell is heavenly.
For some reason, we decided to be a bit crazy and walk back UP the dark, unlit dirt path that we took to come down. We used our phones as flashlights and it was exhilarating and fun. We enjoyed the adventure, but I think most people would probably feel a lot more comfortable taking a simple cab ride back up the hill to the hotel.
It was a super fun day, but we were wiped out. It felt so good to finally sleep in a real bed again after spending close to 12 hours on a plane.
Up next, out first very traditional Piedmontese meal in Alba