White Alba Truffles and other truffles from Italy
The first question to ask when talking about truffles in general and especially about truffles in Italy is based on the nature of the product itself.
So, what is truffle? What are truffles made from? Are truffles mushrooms?
Truffles are mistakenly thought to be tubers, actually having their shape, or modified underground roots but in reality they are mushrooms!
In particular, truffle is a symbiotic hypogeal fungus: it lives underground near the roots of some trees such as poplar, hazel, linden, beech and oak.
How are truffles grown? Trees provide nourishment to truffle, the latter provides water and mineral salts to the plant.
The relationship between tree and truffle is essential: it is impossible to find a truffle very far from a plant because it would not have nourishment and it could not live.
If you are approaching European truffles for the first time, now you will have understood why you should go truffle hunting almost exclusively in woodland areas.
Their mythological origins are based on a legend that tells the fury of Jupiter (the Roman name for Zeus) who threw lightning, probably near an oak, at the point where the first truffle grew. Furthermore, it was considered an aphrodisiac, being the fruit of the God who was endowed with seductive qualities by definition.
Truffle price was very high even in ancient Roman times, despite the fact that its quality did not require it. Even the writer Apicius included it in many recipes contained in his “De Re Coquinaria” book, citing it among the most expensive dishes.
In the Middle Ages, frugal cuisine did not care about truffle. It was instead exalted in the Renaissance where the hegemony of white truffles was established in Italy.
In the 1700s Italian truffle had a privileged place on the noble tables of all European courts.
Hunting for truffles became a palace ceremony, so much so that people began to favour the use of dogs rather than pigs for a matter of pure elegance.
Even today hunting truffles seems like a ceremony that only a few experts can conduct with their trusted trained animals. It is important to remember that in Italy it is forbidden to go truffle hunting without dogs.
Where do truffles grow? In Italy truffles grow in many areas including Marche, Lazio and Irpinia.
However, Piedmont is the leader in quality and variety of production.
Thanks to the type of soil (soft, humid and rich in calcium) and the climate, Langhe, Monferrato and Roero are the best areas to find the precious white truffle from Alba.
The most famous Italian truffle from Piedmont is the white Alba truffle.
The first book on this Piedmontese truffle was already published in 1780: the Tuber Magnatum Pico.
In Piedmont, truffles are still the subject of scientific studies by researchers. Many initiatives promote the protection and marketing of this product. Important is the National Centre for Truffle Studies situated in Alba and the International Alba White Truffle Fair, where two important events are held: the Alba White Truffle World Market and the World Alba White Truffle Auction, which takes place in November.
In Italy truffles means PERFUME: a strong and characteristic odour, which is released to the maximum during the maturation of spores, useful for the fungus to attract the animals that eat it in nature allowing its reproduction.
The ecosystem of this organic niche is very delicate: that is why the truffle hunt must be carried out with great attention, trying not to move the ground too much.
In addition to their scent, Italian truffles are distinguished by shape, colour, truffle season and other parametres that we will analyse below.
Alba White Truffle
Its scientific name is “Tuber Magnatum Pico”. It is also called white precious truffle as it is considered the rarest, most fragrant and qualitatively important white truffle.
When is white truffle season? White truffle season runs from September to December (it can be said that these Italian truffles are autumnal). They can be collected in the Monferrato and Langhe area where Alba, a town in the province of Cuneo, is the favourite area.
Externally Alba truffle has got a smooth, velvety, pale yellow rind.
What do truffles look like inside? The inside is marbled with whitish veins and it varies according to the truffle-growing area, the tree from which it perceived nourishment and the degree of ripeness.
Its shape has no great peculiarities and Alba white truffle can reach a good size.
The aroma of this famous Italian truffle is intense, persistent and it reaches its peak during maturation, when a single aspiration is enough to remain entranced.
The rule is to serve it raw, without exception. It doesn’t take much to give character to the dish.
The best chefs from all over the world appreciate the rarity of this Italian truffle, which reaches significant truffle prices. How much do truffles cost? Currently white truffle prices are between 1300 and 2300 euros per kilo.
In 2017, due to its rarity and to the appointment of Alba as a Creative City for Gastronomy by UNESCO, there was a peak in the price of truffles. In particular Alba white truffle cost reached 6000 euros per kg (remember that the prices of Italian truffles vary according to size, truffle season and other factors that may determine changes in the stock market).
It is also rare to go truffle hunting in Italy since a patent is required as well as the use of trained dogs, but Italia Delight offers you a unique experience of simulated Alba White truffle hunting in one of the many truffle grounds situated on the hills of the Langhe.
You will get to know Italian truffles, their biological properties and make your acquaintance with the dogs that will lead the truffle hunts together with our Expert.
Enjoying this experience means discovering Alba truffles, Piedmont and the Langhe.
Its scientific name is “Tuber Melanosporum” (meaning black spores). What is a black truffle? It is a mushroom that matures during winter, so that black truffle season runs from mid-November to mid-March.
Black truffle is widespread both in Piedmont and Umbria, where it is possible to find the Precious Black Truffle from Norcia.
Black truffle has got a round shape and it can reach more than one kilogram.
Externally it is dark and wrinkled, internally the pulp is black tending to purple with white streaks and red reflections.
Taste and aroma are very delicate with sweetish notes (for this reason, it is also called sweet black truffle).
Black truffle can be used raw or after a light cooking, which allows to release all the aromas.
This Italian truffle can be found in Umbria, Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige and Basilicata as it easily adapts to different types of soils.
It ripens from May to autumn. According to the truffle season, it will have slightly different colours: at the beginning of summer, it will have a light and marbled pulp that will turn brown in autumn. Externally its rind is black and rough.
Flavour and aroma are similar to those of porcino mushrooms.
Its price is obviously lower than the white and black truffle prices mentioned above. For Scorzone truffles price may vary from 80 to 250 euros per kg.
Black Uncinato Truffle
Tuber Uncinatum Chatin has got a rough black rind with a warty appearance and hook-like protrusions.
Internally, its clear and branched white veins on dark background are surprising, indicating complete ripening.
Black Uncinato truffle grows in shady areas, hidden from the sun’s rays, in a moist soil rich in hummus. It is mistaken for scorzone truffle due to their similarity.
This Italian truffle has got an intense, pleasant aroma and flavour with hints of hazelnut and porcini mushrooms.
Its price may vary from 400 to 600 euros per kg.
Small in size, Tuber Brumale V. Moscatum is not a well known species, but it has on its side a peculiar strong smell of musk and a strong taste that make it an excellent Piedmontese truffle.
It has got a very dark jagged rind and the inside turns from ocher yellow to orange when ripe.
Moscato truffle season is winter between mid-November and mid-March.
The musky smell of this mushroom makes it appreciated by great chefs who use it for the weirdest food combinations or to dare with stronger flavours.
If conditions are favourable, truffle prices should be around 250-350 euros per kg.
This Italian truffle is called “winter black truffle”. It is almost entirely similar to Moscato truffle, apart from its scent that recalls that of a turnip.
Brumale truffle differs from Black Truffle for its greyish colour, large and evident internal veins, as well as for its perfume.
Truffle season is from January to March.
Alba White Truffle Fair
The Alba White Truffle Fair is the place where this Italian truffle from Langhe, Monferrato and Roero finds the exposure it deserves.
IN OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER the Alba White Truffle fair hosts the Alba White Truffle World Market, an ideal place to buy fine (and precious) Piedmontese truffles selected by experts in Alba White Truffle Sensory Analysis, trained by the National Center for Truffle Studies.
Precisely the Alba White Truffle fair hosts:
• the Alba Truffle Show, where food and wine professionals, Italian and international chefs, designers, writers and artists celebrate Alba white truffle with meetings, debates and cooking shows.
(There is also an area completely dedicated to children called Alba Truffle Kids!)
• the World Alba White Truffle Auction is a very important event where the best white Alba truffles are auctioned.
This event often hosts famous people: last year Caterina Balivo and Enzo Iacchetti attended the event.
The two Italian television presenters were able to witness the sale of an Alba White Truffle weighing about one kilo at the price of 120 thousand euros to a buyer connected from the three-star Michelin restaurant “Otto and Mezzo Bombana” in Honk Kong (the only Italian restaurant abroad to have received three stars from the french guide!).
Every year all proceeds from sales are donated to charity.
Truffle pairings with Piedmontese wines
In important events Barolo and Barbaresco wines are often paired with Alba White Truffle, creating a perfect combination with local food.
Red wines are often used to pair with truffle dishes, to support the strong aromaticity of Italian truffle.
In reality food and wine pairing depends on the truffle used and above all on the basic ingredients of the dish itself, which will make up taste, acidity, flavour, sweetness and aroma of the dish.
For egg pasta, such as the traditional tajarin with white truffle, Barbaresco or Barbara d’Alba wines have got the right structure to pair with truffle without overpowering the dish. If you prefer something more delicate, Dolcetto d’Alba could also be a good choice.
For a truffle risotto, Franciacorta Millesimato wine with its herbaceous notes is the right combination.
In fact a new trend pairs white wines from the Langhe with Piedmontese truffles: for example, a fried egg with thin flakes of white truffle pairs well with the intense floral scent of Roero Arneis DOCG wine.
If you want to enjoy a complete experience between wine and truffles in the Langhe, I suggest that you take a look at “Alba Truffle And Wine in the Langhe”: 6 days to visit wineries, discover an Infernot in Monferrato, join a truffle hunting experience and cycling on wonderful routes.
Italia Delight also offers you the opportunity to contact the local food expert and to agree on the activities you prefer, organising a package that suits your needs, planning your trip in the best possible way.
Did you like the article on Italian truffles by Nur Migahed, a graduate student in Gastronomic Sciences and Cultures at the Roma Tre University? Discover all the experiences and travel in Piedmont with Italia Delight!