Alba is the capital of the white truffle.
Unlike other types of truffles, the tartufo bianco can’t be formally cultivated, with steep prices to match its scarcity and high demand. Come October and November, the northern Italian town – around 20 minutes from where I’ve been living while studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences – is transformed into a truffle-obsessed hub with the annual Fiera del Tartufo. Thousands of visitors flock to town to visit the outdoor stalls peddling the pricey nuggets, each carefully encased in individual little dishes with handwritten prices; to indulge in truffle-laden degustations at local restaurants; and, in my case, to enjoy as many free tastings of truffle-infused butter, cheese and honey as I can get away with from the many speciality mushroom stores.
Meanwhile, a handful of trifolau – the Piemontese term for a truffle hunter – offer (allegedly simulated) hunts for the white gold in the surrounding forests. Most come from families who’ve been foraging for truffles here for generations, painstakingly training their dogs to sniff out the underground ‘shrooms, which might be buried up to a metre beneath the earth.
Along with my uni mates Lizzie, Lily and Chelsea in Costigliole d’Asti, and then with my favourite person, Larissa, in La Morra – we followed these cammo-bedecked funguys (sorry, had to do it) into the woods to unearth the fragrant sprouts with the help of their skillful pups.