Truffle Season in Italy
“Questa e’ una terra baciata dalla fortuna” (“This is a land kissed by good fortune”). So tells me Sergio Rivetto as he touches my shoulder as I was part of the family and points at his vineyards rolling down the hills of Sinio and Serralunga d’Alba, in the winemaking area of Langhe in Piedmont, Northwestern region in Italy. He says it in a way that is both thankful to God and at the same time proud for what people here have been able to achieve with it. It has just been named a World Heritage site protected by Unesco.
Barolo, Barbera, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Freisa are the most famous reds, while Roero Arneis, Erbaluce, Nascetta, Moscato, Favorita and Timorasso are the whites. Impressive wines, each with a distinctive strong character, which are a reflection of the people and the territories that have developed them over decades. Rivetto has a small, but incredibly high quality production, with all his wines having more than 90 points on Wine Spectator – and they fully deserve them. Sergio and his son Enrico are enjoying the results and the attention, but remain the typical hard working people of this region, humble and friendly, yet proud as Italians can be. If you want to see some of the most amazing and larger wineries, do not miss a visit to Ceretto, Gaja or Braida, which produce some of the wines we love the most here.
We come to this region every year, almost like a ritual, as nothing can compare to the Langhe when one wakes up in the morning and opens the window to see the fog lifting over the hills and the valleys to show the misty vineyards sparkling with the changing colors of late fall. The best and highest season to visit here is indeed November: one needs to book months in advance to find a good accommodation. In the area around the most famous town of Alba, every hill has an old castle, a monastery or a wonderfully preserved church perched on top of it.
But it is not only the views and the history that draw us here, it is the only time of the year when we can eat fresh white truffle, the perfect supreme delicacy that grows only in this area, cannot be conserved for a long time and cannot be grown like other kinds of truffles anywhere else. Sometimes nature is able to keep its secret to men and, with white truffle, we can just thank her for producing such an amazing unique taste and protecting it under ground, close to the roots of specific trees in this region, where only Lagotto dogs (and pigs in the past) are able to find them under the direction of a ‘Trifulao’, the man who has trained them for this task since they were puppies. After the October market in Alba sets the price for the white truffle (with typical prices going from two thousands to even five thousands per kilogram), the season starts, but we like to visit in November or even early December to get the best choice and more mature varieties. With tagliolini, risotto or even just with eggs, or with a tagliata di fassone, they turn any dish into a masterpiece of taste. They are perfect with another hidden gem of the region, Castelmagno cheese, which is again a very refined semi-hard, half-fat cheese produced from whole cow milk in the Cuneo area.
Osteria del Duomo, Da Felice, La Ciau al Tornavento, le Torri are just some of the local restaurants we love so much. But almost any restaurant in the region would offer white truffle with some of its dishes in this season, with a “shaving” done just in front of you on top of the warm food, and adding steeply to your check at the end of the meal. And it is really hard to go wrong with restaurants in this area of Italy, everything being so delicious with ingredients coming naturally straight from the farms around. When we want to try and bring some of the best truffle tastes back home, we go to TartufLanghe, which produces incredible spreads, oils, and other amazing delicacies with truffles from this region. Eataly, the food store now present in New York and Chicago, also has its roots in this region, as it does the Slow Food movement, which so much has done to keep the quality and the taste of traditional food against the fast food trends taking over with our busy lives. And if all this was not enough, the famous hazelnuts of this region are the secret behind some of the best chocolates in Italy, from the world renowned Ferrero to the mouth-watering small production of the master chocolate producer Guido Gobino.
Everything seems to blend and make perfect sense in the Langhe region and, as it often happens, local wine goes impeccably well with local food. A food that is a combination of French and Italian influences due to the location and history of this region: incredibly refined as French food and simply tasty as only the best Italian food can be. We raise our glasses of a Barbera Bricco dell’Uccellone (or even Ai Suma – produced only in the best years by Braida from the same vineyards) in front of the setting sun behind the hills of Alba – days are short at this time of the year, but we still have the evening to enjoy another great meal with truffle and good friends.