Postcard from Piedmont: Part V

Piedmont which we’ve visited several times this year is a region in the north-west of Italy celebrated for its culture, baroque houses, elegant 19th century cafés, museums and sophisticated cuisine. People flock to the white-truffle fairs of Alba and to taste the acclaimed Barolo and Barbaresco wines. But there is a more rustic Piedmont, mostly overlooked by visitors, where you will find some of its finest producers. They grow organically, and make food and drinks with little or no additives and minimal processing of the raw ingredients. There are natural wines, farmhouse cheeses, sourdough breads, charcuterie, terroir honey and live beers, among a raft of other goodies taste exquisite.

I think we can all agree that Piedmont is a foodie’s delight but this post is dedicated to truffles. I cannot think of a savoury dish that cannot be improved with the addition of truffles. It doesn’t have to be uber-expensive fresh truffles: think Truffle salt, Truffle oil, Truffle butter…….you get the idea. These products elevate the ordinary.

Obviously, I picked up some of these products on my latest trip to Alba in Piedmont where I also treated my other half to two slap up lunches, one in a Michelin 3* establishment. And yes, truffles were involved in both savoury and sweet dishes.

A bit of background

Often referred to as ‘the truffle capital of the world’, Alba is the home of the finest white truffles in the world. Whether it’s shaved over a plate of polenta or a bowl full of ravioli del plin, these truffles impart an earthy depth to dishes, along with a subtle aroma.

All About White Truffles

Truffles are tubers that grow a few centimetres/inches underground. They thrive close to roots of hardwood trees like oaks, hazelnut and chestnut. While all truffles are deeply valued, the white truffle from Alba (a particular species called tuber magnatum) is the most desired for its unforgettable flavour. They have a knobby shape, firm flesh, and pale golden colour. White truffles are sought after for their larger size, limited quantity and quality of taste.

The golden, spongy tuber boasts pleasantly pungent aromas that give way to deep, earthy flavours from its cream-coloured centre.  I love to shave the truffle in paper-thin slices over a variety of dishes, from pasta and risotto to eggs and meat and now I’ll be doing it over (some) desserts too.

truffle dog fico

White truffle season is from September to December when they grow wild in the forests around Alba. In particular, they grow deep in the forests of Langhe, a fertile area in Piemonte perfectly situated between the Tanaro and Po Rivers and the Alps and Apennine mountain ranges. Le Langhe comprises rolling hills filled with vineyards and hilltop towns known for producing great wines, cheeses, and — of course — truffles. The soil is primarily clay and marl, allowing the truffle to grow larger around the roots of oak, poplar and linden trees.

Each truffle is individually sniffed out by a dog, which a professional truffle hunter has trained to detect the unique scent. (Truffles were once hunted by pigs, until the hunters realised that pigs loved them too.) Once the dog reveals the location, the hunter digs out the truffle and gently cleans it before selling it!

il-tartufo-agnolotti-del-plin-truffle-shaver-web

How to care for your truffle

Truffles are best enjoyed as fresh as possible, so you can fully experience the full deep aromas and earthy flavors. Don’t wait more than two to three days to enjoy after you receive your whole truffle, and never buy a pre-cut one, unless you plan to use it immediately.

How to Store and Clean Fresh Truffles

When it comes to storage, avoid moisture at all costs. Place the prized ingredient in clean tissue or kitchen paper or a breathable container at room temperature in a dark space. Change the tissue paper daily to avoid the build-up of moisture and to retain aroma. Do not freeze your truffle: it will accumulate moisture and lose its aroma. I also recommend that you store your truffle on its own. Products like rice or salt will absorb the aroma, so especially avoid them (unless you intend to flavour the rice or salt!).

When it comes to cleaning truffles: do not use water or soap. Instead, remove any dirt with a soft brush. Pro tip: I learned firsthand that official truffle hunters often use a soft toothbrush.

Let's Get Luxe: 10 Over-the-Top Truffle Dishes You'll Dig

Eat and enjoy your truffle raw (it’s considered a sin to cook the culinary gold!), thinly shaved directly over the finished dish. We recommend about four or five grams (0.2oz) per (very lucky) person.

11 Comments on “Postcard from Piedmont: Part V

  1. I’m one of those rare people who don’t love truffles (except the chocolate kind!) but I appreciate learning more about them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, dear me, how yummy!! (And what a view in the first shot.) When my s-i-l lived in France, they were very good friends with a chef who could have had a Michelin star but didn’t want the hassle. They always got off-the-menu food when they visited and it was amazing. Perhaps the best thing I had there (or one of the best), was a truffled egg, soft-boiled with the top of the shell removed, the truffle shaved inside, the top replaced, and then served immediately. Divine!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a bit on the fence about truffles, probably because I’m a recovering picky eater! I like it in pasta and a little truffle oil on pizza or bread, but I had a big slice of truffle on a piece of sushi and it was a bit too much for me. Maybe one day my palate will be a bit more sophisticated 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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