21 October 2007

Stalking the Black and White Truffles of Asti

Actually it's more like stalking the elusive Internet, which one expects it to be there when you want it. In other words I'm happy to be back on line after 5 long days of frustratingly being off line. Although I do have to say that it did allow me permission to get my little neglected garden patches tended before the unusual early cold weather set in. There's snow on the peaks at the moment, that is further down than all of last year. Perhaps those predictions of a hard winter that my father in law keeps mentioning the signs of, might come to fruition. Stay tuned on that account, as they also say that when it comes this early, then it won't be much of a season. And so it goes with the predictions of the weather and whether or not it'll be a good mushroom season, ski season or fill in the blank. Discussing the weather; humankind's favorite past time down through the ages.
Whenever you start making arrangements 8 months ahead with guests for an annual event that is reliant on Mother Nature being cooperative, you can be sure you will not be able to predict how it will all turn out. So when some of our last guests told me how they were coming because they not only had a great passion for good food and wine, but a particular passion for porcini and truffles and were planning their trip around, I had a bit of a crossed fingers reaction. We are known for our porcini mushrooms here in our neighborhood, truffles are found out on the hilly vineyard area about an hour from us. I wanted their and all of our guests holiday to live up to their hopes and expectations, especially when people come from halfway around the world for mushrooms, white Christmas, sunny summers and food that knocks your socks off. So it was a bit alarming when our season wasn't panning out to be the banner season that it usually is.
So after all these months of corresponding, they have finally arrived and I start back peddling on expectations, telling them how it isn't a stellar year, but we'll find mushrooms and truffles no matter what, and on and on.Do try to imagine my surprise when they came back from a little stroll before dinner having only arrived less than an hour before and Jamie was carrying a plump ole Porcino that made her day, well actually, it made all of our day, to have such an auspicious beginning to their visit. So I started to breath a bit easier. When it came round to the weekend, Fabrizio called up his friend who is the president of the Truffle association of the Asti region to find out where to have luck with trying to purchase truffles. He recommended the festival in Montiglio, a hilltop town in the Asti region, as an alternative to the more famous festival of Alba. Alba is a bigger, sophisticated town and well known for their month long truffle festival every weekend in October, as well as the home of Ferrero Rocher of chocolate and Nutella fame. We knew we would be fighting the crowds and the prices would be steep. So off we went on a warm foggy Sunday for a small town festival that had something for everybody. It is not possible to just head off in the woods to search for Truffles, like here where the hordes descend like locusts at times. No, you can't just set out and search for truffles with your pet pig and dig up everything in sight. Oh no, you have to be licensed and only select licensed hunters are able to deal in the much prized treasure. All the vendors we saw that day had certificates. Upon arriving the seasonal fog burned off to give us a beautiful sunny day. It really was an excellent choice. Rest assured we were not alone in our quest for truffles. There was a steady stream of people out for a Sunday outing that didn't disappoint. The town was hopping with a couple of buses and a makeshift parking lot filling up fast. There were all sorts of vendors in the main piazza selling cheeses, wine, bread, juice, salami with truffle, books, jewelry and decoupaged nic nacs for the interested. They even had an antique car show with some great old Fiats too. Further past the main avenue of the truffle market in the center of town, the vendors making baskets and brooms, and all sorts of handicrafts snaked through the winding streets till you reached the top of the village where the Pro Loco were dishing up some mighty fine fare and the smell was intoxicating. Carne crudo topped with black truffle, cannellini beans and truffle, Tomini cheese topped with, you got it, truffle. The smell at times could almost be overwhelming, but we managed to hang in there and sample our fair share.It didn't take us long to find the truffle spreads and dips and finally the vendors of the very lusted after, truffle. The people were very friendly and everyone was having quite a good time. When Jamie finally found the truffle of her dreams, well, at least of her budget the woman was so taken with her that she not only added in a free black truffle to keep the white one company, but she even gave her a book about the town of Montiglio. It was a great outing, but it wasn't over yet.

In part two I'll tell you about the rest of the day, where we carried on for a bit of wine tasting before heading home to prepare our indulgence of truffles and porcini.

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