Taste of Piedmont
From the serene shores of Lake Orta to the breathtaking mountain peaks of Monte Rosa, the undulating landscape of Piedmont boasts incomparable variety. Bordering France and Switzerland, this north-western region sits along the foot of the Italian Alps. Pied and monte translate as ‘foot’ and ‘mountain’ respectively, and the region is home to many picturesque ski pistes, such as Via Lattea (‘milky way’) and the Alpine comune of Alagna Valsesia, where skiers glide along pristine slopes, discovering tiny hidden villages and ancient water mills.
As well as harbouring an incomparable landscape, Piedmont is one of Italy's most esteemed gastronomic regions with a rich culinary history: Nutella was inspired by a special sweet hazelnut variety grown in the Piedmont hills, while the international Slow Food movement was spawned in the vineyards of Le Langhe in the late eighties. Although Piedmont is a quieter tourist destination than the likes of Tuscany or Venice, its prolific food & wine scene attracts visitors from across the globe, eager to sample the world-famous fine wines, cheese, coffee and, of course, truffles.
Going for (white) gold
The history and consumption of truffles dates to even before the first century, and from early in the renaissance period they became known as “the garlic of riches” because of its distinctive smell and its incomparably sweet, nutty flavour. Yet it wasn’t yet it wasn’t until the 16th century, during the renaissance, that it became apparent that Piedmont not only held a prized area for foraging truffles, but unlike the neighbouring Alpine areas, the truffles were white. A hundred years later in the 17th century, the Piedmontese white truffle was so highly valued in Europe, particularly amongst the nobility, that truffle hunting became a popular Palace entertainment for when important guests visited the Italian courts.
Although all truffles are considered the ‘diamonds of the kitchen’, the white truffle is revered above rest for its impressively large size, limited quantity, and unique sweet and slightly garlicky flavour. Considered one of the most expensive ingredients in the world and found almost exclusively in the southern part of Piedmont in Alba, the white truffle even has an annual market dedicated to its celebration. Held every weekend from mid-October through to the beginning of December, this market acts as a gastronomic hub for local and international truffle enthusiasts to appreciate, taste and buy the ‘white gold’ from the surrounding Piedmontese areas.
The events held at the market are dedicated to the culinary traditions of the Langhe area such as showcasing truffle centred recipes with Michelin–starred Chefs, debates dedicated to truffles, presentations of the latest truffle-related books, in-depth sensory analysis of truffles and tastings of regional specialities, particularly the famous pasta dish tagliolini with white truffle sauce.
Why is it so expensive?
Unlike black truffles which can be farmed, white truffles must be grown and foraged in the wild. They require mineral-rich soil, acquired but growing by the roots of oak, beech, and hazel trees. The truffle and the tree have a symbiotic relationship whereby the former supplies water and extra nutrients through forming a ‘mycorrhiza’ - which act as an extension of the tree's root system, and the latter provides photosynthesised carbohydrate (sugar) in return, crucial for its growth.
The period for hunting truffles is strictly regulated and can only take place between September 21st and January 21st. It is notoriously difficult to find white truffles and can only be done with a specialist Trifulau – a truffle hunter in the Piedmontese dialect – and his trusty dog.
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