Hunting for Truffles

For our first dinner in Alba, I was determined to try the famous white truffles shaved on pasta that this area is known for. I'm ashamed to admit I have never eaten white truffles. What kind of a daughter of a Piemontese am I? I was determined to change that. And to change it here, not in some up-market Italian restaurant in Washington.

I knew, of course, that this wasn't the height of truffle-eating season. That's earlier in the winter, usually October through December. But sometimes the season extends into January, and even late January, so I thought maybe, just maybe, I could snag some and so live down this culinary shame. On a walk through town, we had seen some white truffles for sale, preserved in jars.

We looked at the menus posted outside at several restaurants we passed. None mentioned white truffles. One mentioned black truffles. But that's not what we were looking for. The manager of the hotel had told me that eating black truffles was as banal as eating potatoes. I couldn't commit that faux pax. I'm still living down the grapes.

Finally, we mustered up the courage to go into one busy restaurant to ask the owner if she was still serving white truffles.

It was almost like I had asked Flavia Boffa if I could sleep with her grandfather. She took it that personally. It's been too cold, of course, she huffed. There are no white truffles anymore. And the ones you've seen in the shops aren't truffles from Alba, but rather truffles from Tuscany. And it's a disgrace they're trying to pawn them off as our truffles.

It turned out Ms. Boffa knew a whole lot about truffles. She was a founding member of the city's National Center for the Study of Truffles, which aims to educate people like me about them, catalogue them, crack down on truffle hunters selling bad ones, and anything else you can think of to do with the things.

Once she saw that I was interested in learning more, she warmed to me and pulled out her big truffle book. Water makes up 75 percent of a white truffle, she told me. And since it's been so cold here this January (but little snow), the truffles were frozen in the ground right after Christmas. So they're no longer good.

Now last year was a completely different story. You could find truffles into late January because the weather was milder.


By Daniela Deane |  January 26, 2006; 11:05 AM ET  | Category:  Alba , Food , Wine
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I personally do not like truffles and I think they are overrated and overpriced.

Posted by: Andy | January 26, 2006 01:50 PM

Andy, I might have said the same about truffles before visiting Monferrato early last November. The overwhelming decadence which has almost sickened me when I've had truffles imported to the US was perfectly in balance, the aromas and flavors fresh and complex but not overpowering.

This is fortunate since for the entire week we were proudly served white truffles on everything except gelato.

Posted by: SteveLG | January 26, 2006 06:41 PM

very great article.....last year we spent a week in italy, it's really a beautiful country.....your newspaper is also amazing...

Posted by: Renningen...11a | January 27, 2006 02:06 AM

where can we find out when exactly the truffle season begins in Alba. I just got back from Torino for the Olympics and toured Alba and Asti with the Tasting Tours Co. They were fabulous but we could not get any truffles as they are not in season. Wanted to plan another trip for this year for truffles. Any ideas or web links?? Much appreciated, Rina

Posted by: Caterina | February 28, 2006 10:01 AM

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