Wednesday, November 5, 2008

White truffles of Alba

image of grapes on the vineDear Gentle Reader,

Autumn is here, but not in Hong Kong.  

In Hong Kong it is simply after the monsoon season and chillier.  But I am in Canada so I have autumn to enjoy with its colourful leaves, crisp air, and the bounty of the local fields.

I have been hanging out with my Dad enjoying local fish, game, and produce and am reminded of the last time I saw my Dad. Almost a year ago he visited your humble scribe, your Heroine, and your Hero in Geneva.

During that visit we traveled down to Northern Italy for a birthday dinner (Mine! This week it comes again!).

We went to Alba in Piemonte (Piedmont in English), Italy. Neither your scribe nor your Heroine did much planning. We knew we wanted white truffles and lovely Barolo wines, so we knew that we had to go to Piedmont.

It was spectacular.

The scenery...

All those Italian landscape paintings that I used to dismiss as being "Italianate Romantic"... it turns out those painters were realists.  Italy is one big garden with phenomenal light and colours; I now know why it found so often on canvas.

Then there was our destination, Piedmont.

We rented a car, left Switzerland with alacrity, sped through France and their Mont Blanc Tunnel, and voila, we left the tunnel at Monte Bianco and entered the Aosta Valley region of Italy.

We drove through and around the mountains in Aosta and made it into Piedmont. We then made an accidental detour through, rather than around, Torino (Turin). Unfortunately, that night was the start of a long weekend in Italy and Turin experienced a complete power outage as we mistakenly drove into it.

Question: Do Italian traffic officers with flashlights and whistles at every intersection, instead of traffic lights, improve Italian driving behaviour? 

Answer: Yes. The Italian driver's innate talent and skill at automotive anarchy is enhanced and improved. 

We also had no map of Turin.

Due to gridlock on the main roads we took random turnings on the tiny alleys of Turin. A statistician might say that it was a drunken drive (as opposed to a drunken walk). (For the internet, yes we were sober.) 

Yes, that is a long written detour in the blog, but it was a long time that we spent in Turin. 

We ended up finding a pizza parlour where theyya spokka inna singga-songga fashion. Itta wassa greatta.

Six hours later we found our way out of Torino with tempers only slightly frayed. Your humble scribe might have been a bit sharp, but then he is hypoglycemic.

As we drove down to Alba, enchanted home of the white truffle, night had fallen. By chance, we found the greatest hotel in Northern Italy, the Villa Tiboldi in Canale, just outside of Alba. 

If you are ever going to pop the question to your guy or girl or gerbil, the Villa Tiboldi is a phenomenal place to do it (they speak English and German too). 

We know how great the Villa Tiboldi is because, owing to a serendipitous last-second cancellation, they had a room available.

We discovered the following day, when the hotel's owner kindly worked the phone to find us a room for the next few nights, that hotels in Alba fill up with international chefs and gourmets nine to twelve months in advance for the International White Truffle Festival. 

Serendipitous felicity rained upon us like manna as fine accommodation for the following days was found in addition to coveted reservations at some of the region's finest restaurants.

We spent the next few days and nights eating.  Glorious.

image of white truffles in Alba

These morsels are what we ate. These are white truffles.  They are kept wrapped in linen towels and stored in a glass container so that they don't dry out and lose their aroma.  The sellers unwrap them for big spenders like your humble scribe pretended to be. 

At approximately 3,000 Euros/kilo at the source (about $1,900 USD/pound as of Nov 2008) you want these little lumps to be fresh and to have been kept properly when you buy them.

What is a truffle like? They have an aroma a bit like straw but when they enter your mouth your brain melts around your tongue and then explodes in taste stars. You know how you see stars when you rub your eyes? Same idea, but they are sensual flavour stars bursting in through your tongue and out your brain.

I am not going try to explain these things further, except to say that truffles are erotic gifts for your tongue and nose.

Apparently people fall into three categories. First, truffle addicts, second, those who think truffles are nice (Apostasy!) and third, those who do not really see the point at all.

Your humble scribe was an addict at first taste. I crave them while writing about them; the skin on my neck is prickling and my arm hairs are raised.

Your Heroine is guilty of culinary apostasy. She thinks truffles are nice. (?)

My Dad claims that he doesn't see the point. I cannot comprehend what this level of culinary blindless is like. To not taste the point of truffles, that sensual roundness nuzzling your palette? I pity my Dad...

But, his indifference meant that I ate his last plate of truffles! ...Score for the addict!

Really, the best I can say is that truffles are a sexual, culinary experience. I was panting every time I smelled them. Divine.

Agritourism, however, is more than just eating. Agritourism requires effort. It requires walking from village to village to work up an appetite for the next meal.

image your Heroine, your humble scribe, and your humble scribe's dad in the fields between villages
This is the family in the fields between villages. Look at that Bauch (Bauch sounds better than belly; more man-like) on your humble scribe. I only wish it were all truffle...

In the next village we had ambrosia. Piedmont's south was blessed with both white truffles and with nebbiolo grapes. Nebbiolo is what Barolo is derived from. A few bottles of this liquid love made their way across a few borders when we left Italy.

Now, a warning. Never have a Barolo with white truffles. We didn't and you shouldn't either.

image of your humble scribe and his father in the tasting section with the chefs and sommeliers at the Alba International White Truffle FestivalWhite truffles are just too delicate and subtle a taste while Barolo is just too strong and complex a wine.

White truffles are amazing with a light cream and cheese sauce over fresh pasta, or plain pasta with butter, or over half baked eggs, or maybe over scallops. Subtle pairings are needed.

Dad and I spent much time trying out lighter whites to pair with the white truffles...

And then it was time to return to Switzerland.

A year has passed. I can still taste those truffles. Thanks, Dad. And I am still drinking the Barolos in Hong Kong. Thanks again.

Happy Autumn.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes (with Fish breath)


Pica Miel said...

Genial Blog!!!

Travis Erwin said...

The comment you left for me was outstanding. And you are right, we all need to hear a compliment now and again otherwise we begin to think we are delusional for believing we can write.

I have taken a few lumps lately so your kind words lifted my spirit.

One thing you might want to consider is putting a tighter focus on each of your posts.

For example you could probably do separate posts on what truffles are, the traffic officers and Italian drivers, and the truffle festival.

I do not feel like I have been creating my best on the blog recently but I've been doing it long enough to realize it comes and goes in cycles. You will find your voice and groove and feel like you are in the zone, but know you already have an entertaining and well-written blog and that is more than lots of people can say.

Steady-as-rain said...

Great post. Miss you folks.

Steady-as-rain said...

However, check the meaning of apostate in the dictionary. You will find that one must have held the belief in the first place and then abandoned it, not simply decline to hold the belief in the first place.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Steady as Rain,

Well, in the case of my Dad and your Heroine, I am sure that, prior to eating the white truffles, they were convinced these would taste great. You have to believe first to be willing to shell out the money for white truffles. That said, your point is taken, and I need to change words.