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.
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