Returning to the Piedmont region in Italy was never a question of if, but when. Our last visit was highlighted by so many wonderful memories- the wine, the festivals, the food- it was an experience that exceeded all expectations. We were told that the next visit to Piedmont had to be for the International White Truffle Festival– the gem of Alba.
When planning my birthday trip for (gasp) 30 years old… my biggest desire was to eat incredible food and indulge in our favorite wine. A trip back to Piedmont fit the bill perfectly. The International White Truffle Festival started the exact weekend leading up to my birthday, the plans were set and off we go- andiamo!
We took a red eye flight to optimize our time for this quick long weekend trip!
Arriving in Milan Malpensa airport, we look a series of trains amounting to four hours to get to the town of Alba (Airport–> Milano–> Torino–> Alba). This trip of trains ended up being a four hour adventure. The train from Milano to Torino was late causing us to miss our connection to Alba. Luckily the train system in Italy is flexible for these types of delays. If you book online for a regional train, you have four hours before and after the scheduled departure where the ticket is still valid.
We arrived at our Airbnb and our host graciously picked us up from the train station before showing us around our place. A converted convent with only one room furnished, we had the entire place to ourselves. We had no choice but to dig up Catholic church hymns to sing as we entered and left- the echoing made us both sounds pretty good! Nice amenities, homey touches, and a private terrace were all great benefits, not to mention the prime location for all of Alba right next to the Duomo. Our only complaint was the WiFi as it was non-existent most of the trip but the owner did mention that was being worked on for the future.
Ready to explore… and starving… we freshened up after an extremely long travel day. With dinner in a few hours, aperitivo would suit our needs perfectly. Aperitivo is Italian happy hour- you order a drink and free snacks accompany ranging from bruschetta and other toppings on bread to pasta, depending on the establishment.
Voglia di Vino was a short walk down the pedestrian only street, Via Vittorio Emanuele, that is lined with cafes, gelaterias, high end fashion stores, and specialty food shops. Tucked before the main road was Voglia di Vino where we indulged in a few glasses of wine (Nebbiolo, of course!) and a piedmontese cheese plate with prosciutto crudo (raw). It was the perfect start to our gastronomic diary in Alba.
Wandering down Via Vittorio Emanuele, we found the soon-to-be entrance to the truffle festival (marked the spot in our heads for tomorrow!) and ended in a piazza with a merry-go round and several tents selling novelty candy and another roasting chestnuts. From the Duomo to here it was less than a ten minute walk so everywhere in Alba is very accessible.
I recalled that at this end of the town was the best rated gelato shop and while it was probably too close to dinner, we could not turn down the amazingness of Italian gelato. Gelateria La Romana featured over 20 flavors for anyone’s desire. We opted for cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) and Kevin added pistachio to his.
Always impressed by the immense flavor, we were just thrilled to be enjoying this dessert again. And the greatest surprise- at the bottom of my cono (cone) was melted Nutella- the perfect end to my chocolatey snack.
After more exploring, we decided to see if our dinner reservation would take us early. We were told multiple times that this popular weekend in Alba would require reservations for every meal, even if just for two people. Lalibera was able to accomodate an earlier seating and as we sat at our table, the excitement of experiencing tartufo bianco (white truffles) was at an all time high.
The interior of the restaurant reminded us of a modern kitchen table- like everyone is dining in someone’s kitchen table. Very relaxed setting with all the dining items in an accessible dining cabinet nearby and the kitchen just feet away behind a swinging door. Only two servers working and limited seating made it a very intimate experience.
When we got the menu, we both raced to see if we would have the chance to try the white truffle delicacy and to our delight, the options were plentiful! The menu here was great and unfortunately the late cheese and gelato run had us fuller than I preferred as I wanted to try many things on the menu, including the stuffed zucchini flowers. We decided to keep it simple so our stomachs would not regret it later.
There were multiple ways to pay for white truffles on your dish- a flat rate where they freshly shaved a set amount of truffles or the weight of the truffle before was marked, they being to shave the truffle and you tell them when to stop, then they weigh the truffle after and you pay the difference of the weight per gram. Whenever we saw the latter done, people were almost always shocked at how much they ended up spending for what they wanted. You do not need a lot of shaved truffles to experience the tense aroma and flavor.
For my meal, I opted for the Tarjarin (pronounce ta-yar-een, a Piedmontese pasta with thirty to forty egg yolks and an extremely thin noodles) with butter and tartufo bianco d’Alba (flat rate of 40 euro which was the going rate at almost every restaurant). Kevin decided on the on the freshly made tagliatella pasta in a veal ragu.
Along with traditional Piedmontese grissini (crunchy, thin breadsticks), dishes with a special appetizer came- like an egg frittata with tomatoes underneath and a whip cheese on top. It was quite good surprise.
We knew we were going to have wine with every meal so we made a point of trying a different Piedmont varitel each time- Langhe Nebbiolo, Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto, and Arneis- challenge accepted!
Tonight we ordered a 2014 Langhe Nebbiolo from Cascina Morassino- classified as such because typically the grapes were grown outside the areas where it can be called Barolo or Barbaresco. We often find it is more approachable and drinkable younger at the younger age than it’s highly tannic friends and it much more cheaper as well. We really enjoyed this wine, especially as we began our meal and the wine opened up.
And then the moment came where our pastas arrived at the table. My naked tajarin doused in butter awaited its truffle shaving.
The server allowed me to smell the white truffle and the aroma was intense- having only had black truffles before, this was a different experience altogether. Funky and earthy- something that truly cannot be replicated. We watched the truffle shavings fall from the shaver like pedals from a flower or leaves from a tree with each slice sending the rich fragrance across the table. And when she was finished, my plate was completely covered in white truffle shavings- I was very satisfied with my portion!
The fun began as I folded the truffles in the the tajarin and incorporated into the melted butter, making every bite infused with the aroma. I wish I could explain the out of the world flavor but I am out of words!
Enough about the truffles, Kevin also had a great dish, loving the depth of ragu flavor. The large, flat tagliatella pasta that had basil incorporated into the noodle and the ragu was loaded with Italian spices, pieces of tender veal, and peas.
It was a beautiful table spread!
At the end, we both enjoyed sopping the bottom of our dishes with bread to get all the goodness of the dish. I basically had white truffle infused butter at the bottom of my plate- was not letting any of that go to waste! We learned later that is act of taking bread to absorb pasta gravy has a name- scarpetta! Meaning little shoe, and unsure why that is the translation, but this is a practice I have done forever. Leave no gravy behind!
Onto dessert, the options on the menu made it difficult to turn away. I ordered the chocolate fondant pudding with hazelnut ice cream and Kevin ordered the hazelnut semifreddo with hazelnut ice cream.
My dessert came out as a cake which confused me for the pudding descriptor but then I stuck my spoon in and out came hot gooey chocolate liquid. It was wonderful and way better than what I expected to be on the plate. Loved it, one of my favorite desserts on the trip!
Kevin’s dessert was another one where we did not know what would come out but was happily surprised. What looked like three chunks of an ice cream sandwich, chocolate wafers surrounded a frozen hazelnut cream mixture- so good!
Overall we were thrilled with our first dinner in Alba at Laliberia- fresh pasta honestly has no match as it melts effortlessly in your mouth, great new desserts, elegant wine, and oh, white truffles we took turns inhaling throughout the meal.
Luckily after this meal we had a nice passeggiata (an evening stroll) to our Airbnb to help our digestion before bed.
An early morning had us out to grab breakfast before our long day wine touring the Barolo wine region. If it was going to be anything like the last time we toured this area, we were in for a lot of wine so we thought it best to hydrate and get some food beforehand. I found a small grocery shop to buy some fruit while Kevin ordered un cafe (an espresso) from Caffe Vergnano which has one of the largest espresso machines we have ever seen.
We met our guide for the day, Matteo, in the center of town and he drove not even ten minutes and we noticed the landscape change from the town to the rolling hills of Piedmonte. The views from the car alone had us longing for this view every day.
Quick recap on Nebbiolo! Nebbiolo is the grape most prominent in Piedmont. Nebbia means “fog” which is typical over the hills of Piedmont, giving Nebbiolo the success to grow (nebbia= nebbiolo!). Barolo and Barbaresco (other than being villages in Piedmont) are the names of the two wines that Nebbiolo grapes make. What makes one Barolo and one Barbaresco is all where it is grown. If it is grown in the DOCG region of Barolo, the Nebbiolo makes Barolo. If it is grown in the DOCG region of Barbaresco, the Nebbiolo makes Barbaresco. If the Nebbiolo grape is grown somewhere not in the DOCG regions of Barolo or Barbaresco, it makes Langhe Nebbiolo. This is a high level overview but it certainly helped me get a start in understanding wine in this area. The same also applies to wines in Tuscany with Chianti and Chianti Classico. The Italian wines are highly regulated so there is little left up to interpretation when making wine.
A few more photogenic photos of the Piedmont hills scattered with vines and we made our way back to Alba.
Read the all the wonderful details about our day here!
We were very happy with our day in Barolo and pleased that Piedmont Food and Wine scheduled another wonderful experience for us. Three vineyards all with different style and flare, an unbelievable view over traditional Piedmontese lunch, and an extremely knowledge guide. Thank you Matteo and Piedmont Food and Wine!
The restaurant is below another popular spot, Caffe Umberto, and once descended down the stairs the cave is revealed- exposed rock and dim lighting.
After we ordered, a pre-appetizer arrived to the table. A small tasting portion of what we believe to be salumi, pistachio, marjoram, and yogurt. A nice treat to start the meal.
Having had our fill of Barolo for the day, we decided to go with a 2015 Langhe Nebbiolo and we were excited to see a producer we visited on the list- Giovanni Rosso! This felt like a great way to wrap up the wine day and it was certainly a great bottle that only improved with the meal.
Our truffle item for this evening was Carne crudo di Fassone con Tartufo Bianco d’Abla (Fassone veal steak tartae with white truffle).
We chose this as our appetizer to try the truffles in a new way and we love tartar. Once again mesmerized by the white truffle and the aroma, we watched the truffles fall from the shaver and delicately fall onto the tartar, which was completely covered by the end of the shaving. Another great white truffle value in our opinion! We were very happy with this dish.
For an entree, I ordered the Bottoni- homemade pasta filled with porcini mushrooms with mountain butter and marjoram. I was hoping for a mushroom dish on this trip and this certainly fit that- freshly made, round button like pasta pockets stuffed with mushrooms bathing in a sea of butter and marjoram. Each one popped with flavor in my mouth as I tried to pace myself eating each one at a time. I loved everything about this dish.
Kevin ordered the Piccione- low temperature cooking seared pigeon with beetroots, rhubarb, black cabbage, and “mole” sauce. It arrived to the table and it had us “ooo”-ing. A beautiful presentation, pieces of pigeon around the plate, a leg in the middle (claw included), and large cabbage pieces on top drizzled (ok drenched) in a au jus like sauce. The pigeon was cooked perfectly, leaving most rare, and very tender. The flavor of the meat was so delicious and we were happy to have steered away from pasta (this one time).
A picturesque table!
Never passing up dessert, the culinary feast continued with bunet al cioccolato for me and hazelnut dish for Kevin. For as chocolatey as my dish looked, it was actually pretty tasteless. I was not sure if this was the typical standard for bunet al cioccolato since everything else at Enoclub was fantastic. The english description lead me to believe it was a chocolate pudding so I thought I was going to get a dish similar to the awesomeness of the previous night. I still had no trouble finishing it though!
Kevin had the opposite experience as sticking with the hazelnut theme has done him well and did not disappoint.
Another walk home, we were very impressed by the components of this meal and happy we got to experience another truffle dinner in a cave!
Just before we walked into our Airbnb for the night, the restaurant next door caught our eye- fresh pasta preparations for the next day’s meal.
The Truffle Festival was here! Getting a late start, we got in line for the Truffle Festival just before 11AM and was getting there a difference experience. Each time we walked Via Vittorio Emanuele, the street was mostly empty. Today, not only did the number of people in Alba double but there was an outdoor market going on in the middle of the road so there was very little walking room for people.
The 88th Fiera Internazionale Tartufo Bianco d’Abla takes place during weekends of October and November.
The cost of a ticket into the Alba White Truffle World Market was 3.50 euro. When you get your ticket, is it dated and good for readmission during the same day. If you go another day, that is another ticket- we made this mistake first hand trying to use Saturday’s ticket for Sunday. This ticket can also be purchased online.
We walked in and it was white truffle overload. Three rows of vendors selling white and black truffles, truffle products, breads, pastas, cheeses, meats, and wine. Endless possibilities of trying all of these things from the vendors as they seem very generous on giving out samples.
In the middle of the room were all the local truffle hunters showcasing their prized truffles in glass cases for all the view and buy.
It is worth noting that there are many, many shops and places around Alba selling these truffles but what makes the Truffle Fair unique is that there are certifiers that validate each truffle for quality. So while you may pay a but more for the white truffle here, you are getting a guaranteed product. This occasion was where I wish we had an AIrbnb with a kitchen. We could have got some cheese wedges, a truffle shaver, some freshly made pasta, a bottle of wine, and a white truffle to make ourselves for lunch, dinner, or whenever. Things to keep in mind for the future!
In the back is where you can redeem the wine tasting if purchased with admission with your “tasta di vino” (wine pocket) or order food with white truffle options.
The charge here for a white truffle was 25 euro on top of whatever the price of the base dish, which was a good value. We were starving and since we did not have a kitchen for our fantasy meal, we ordered a few items from the menu. To start, we got a plate of piedmontese cheeses and a dish of tajarin with butter and white truffles (tajarin con burro e tartufo bianco for those keeping track in Italian!).
While not the pastas is not same quality as the restaurant ones we have become spoiled with, it was perfect for lunch. We also ordered a few glasses of wine, most of which were 3.50 euro a glass so that was a deal that could not be beat. Another lap around the festival and we exited for a dessert break.
We noticed that the Duomo was open for visitation, which it had not been all trip, so we took some time to see it.
The inside was modest- not like the gaudy city churches- that depended on painting on the stone to bring elegance to the church.
One of the chapels definitely had all the finishings or marble and gold, perhaps a more affordable approach to decorating a church. We sat inside for several minutes enjoying the silence before leaving.
Not wanting a risk gelato experience, we walked the ten minutes down Via Vittorio Emanuele for La Romana again where we tried biscotto di nonna (cookie) and fiordilatte (milk) in addition to cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate). Each flavor was just so rich and perfect!
There are many programs that occur during the weekends of the Truffle Festival such as cooking demonstrations, truffle sensory experiences, and wine tastings. Since it was the first weekend of the festival, there were only a few events so we got tickets to participate in the guided Barolo tasting experience. With about an hour until the tasting at 1730, we got in line for a plate of Salami and Tuma cheese (tuma is pecorino cheese before adding salt) and more wine.
The wine tasting experience was in another room apart from the festival center for a group of about 40 people.
The sommelier started with an introduction of Piedmont and the wines before we tasted three Barolo wines- Rocche, Cannubi, Gabutti, all 2014. We then tasted each wine one by one with the tasting grid for sight, smell, and taste. Each varied greatly since the three come from different regions within Barolo, the unique soils giving each its own characteristics.
After the tasting, we returned back to the festival tent to learn more about white truffles. If let’s say we were to buy one, what is the shelf life? How do you store it? How do you pick one?
Once you buy a white truffle, the clock begins for it to be used within seven days, less if you do not get a good truffle. Storage is preferable in a glass container wrapped in a paper towel in the refrigerator. Picking the right one was more difficult information to extract from the truffle hunters than I wanted, but to be fair, they had been at the far for twelve hours at that point packing up.
So (with our weak internet), I did some research on my own.
- Do not go by the shape, go by the smell- you want a strong smell since that is what you are buying the truffle for- the aroma
- Do not be bothered by holes- holes mean that snails made homes and they love the best truffles!
- Make sure the truffle is firm- not too firm but not soft, soft means it is old
- Make sure the dirt is rubbed off- adds to the weight of the truffle and that means more money
Now you can buy a white truffle!
Dinner was at La Piola, the sister restaurant of the three Michelin Star Piazza Duomo. While my birthday time (and non-birthday time) is filled with tasting menus, I opted against this several hundred dollar meal at Piazza Duomo. My intent was to be eating pasta that was averaging 10 euro (minus white truffles) so I did not feel the need to indulge. Fresh pasta is all I need! La Piola was right by our Airbnb so it was a nice change to eat in our neck of the woods- Borgo San Lorenzo.
We loved the interior here! Felt like the inside of many farm-to-table places back home (though ironic since Piedmont has done farm-to-table literally… forever… not a new concept and no need to over charge!).
Clean aesthetics and fancy decorative plates that reminded us of many places in Paris. The servers were casual and made guests feel relaxed all while serving up gourmet, incredible food.
Oh and I think I missed my favorite part- a giant cheese cart at the door. My Bourdain dreams of a cheese cart being wheeled over and picking the right off the cart (may) come true (not quite, but as close as I have gotten so far!). We had so, so, so much cheese today but the cheese cart was here only tonight so we had to make room.
It was time to check another wine off the list- Barbaresco! When we come back to Piedmont next, we will do a wine tour completed focused on Barbaresco as Kevin enjoys it just as much (if not marginally more) than Barolo. Asking for a recommendation got us the 2015 Peiro Busso Barbaresco to enjoy. The best feature of these Nebbiolo wines is there enhanced flavor with food due to the high tannins- the first few sips can range from subtle to puckering but when the food comes, magic!
We started in poor European style with a cheese plate (a dessert option- but hey we do dessert first all the time!)- Cheese plate Carrello del Formaggi: Affinatore Franco Parola (Assorted cheese by Franco Parola from Florence). With varying options for the number of cheeses, we opted for three with the stipulation they were the three smelliest, funkiest cheeses they had. The server understood and we were so excited to try whatever was in that cheese cart. So while it wasn’t rolled over in a luxurious fashion, I was happy we got a bit of control in the selection.
The cheese plate arrived with one cow, one sheep, and one goat which was surprising to me that there would be representation from all the cheese producers. The first was the goat cheese- Roccaverano DOP Al Origano Selvatico Astigiano. The second was the sheep cheese – Robiola di Pecora Frabosana Valle Pesio. Sadly, the cow cheese tag fell over and while I am not sure the fancy name, I can tell you it was blue cheese (technical terminology!)
While I could have done without the oregano on the outside, the goat cheese was so creamy and had a richness to it. The sheep cheese was a bit harder in texture but had a slow building funk to it. The cow blue cheese was smooth in texture and clear-out-your-sinuses pungent. We loved them all!
Pasta time and I had a feeling the tajarin here was extra good so I dove in for the Tajarin al tartufo bianco (fresh homemade “tajarin” with white truffles) and was I right. I know I said it was good before- and they were- but this was the best. The noodles came out literally in a pool of butter just waiting to be tossed.
Then the truffle shaving but this was one of the best truffles we had on the trip.
This entire dish was heavenly. I could have had this dish every meal and would be completely content. I do not know what they did differently to create a different experience from one I had multiple times but kudos to the La Piola kitchen- fantastico!
Kevin order the Agnolotti del plin al sugo d’arrosto (fresh homemade “ravioli” with roasted veal sauce) and this was no exception to my experience.
He raved at the delicious gravy wrapped around the agnolotti and the meat that was stuffed inside. It was definitely his favorite stuffed pasta dish of the trip and that he has to date.
And the grand finale, dessert. I looked and saw the Bunet al cioccolato again, in english as chocolate pudding. It was daring me to try it again. It read “chocolate pudding” and I like chocolate pudding so I took the dare. I ordered the Bunet al cioccolato (“bonet” chocolate pudding) and I struck out again!
This must be what the Piedmont interpretation of chocolate pudding is and Laliberia must have had it wrong. Disappointing dessert and it was on me this time. I just wanted chocolate goodness! Everything else one the dessert menu looked amazing so I am mad at myself for not paying closer attention to the dishes leaving the kitchen.
Kevin, once again, got an incredible dessert by ordering Torta di nocciole “Relanghe” con zabaione freddo al Moscato d’Asti (Hazelnut cake with cold “zabaione” with Moscato d’Asti wine) which was a dish we had at Asti’s festival. While it was snack sized at the festival, it was made into a gourmet dessert here.
The hazelnut cake was moist and flavorful while the “zabaione” was refreshing and sweet like a pudding (what a joke) consistency. Thankfully, Kevin let me share his cause it was an amazing dessert.
We loved La Piola and if it was open on Sundays and Mondays, we may have tried to sneak in again. Happy to have had the opportunity to dine here.
Our last full day in Alba! But definitely the most jam packed full of Festival kick off fun. Today was the Palio and display of medieval traditions. This Palio is special in comparison to the Palios of Asti and Siena. Story has it that “back in the day” Asti invited neighboring villages to participate in their Palio. Apparently, Alba won so consistently that they were uninvited to participate. As a proper “F-U”, Alba started their own Palio race… except with donkeys. Makes me laugh but we have heard this story from different people and it is always consistent. And so, on the first Sunday of the Truffle Festival, Alba holds the Donkey Palio.
We walked outside to start the morning with breakfast to find right outside to Duomo were all the donkeys right in the square awaiting their selection for the Palio.
We just had to laugh! All different shapes and sizes and colors and personalities, there was no way they could be raced with.
But we had a mission. After much deliberation, we decided to purchase a white truffle to recreate our meals when we were home. I was more confident than before in the “how to buy a white truffle” rules so we walked in just after festival open at 9:30AM to find most of the truffle hunters still setting up.
I surveyed a few that were ready to go and decided on one I liked. But then I smelled it and it wasn’t as pungent as I wanted- everyone said to get one with a really strong smell. The hunter showed me another one that was similar size and it definitely had the smell we were looking for. It was firm and should last us a week. Wrapped it up and took home our white gold. Fingers crossed this works!
We quickly dropped the white truffle in the refrigerator. I did not want to miss the selection of the donkeys so we quickly made our way across the Piazza to get breakfast.
But then horns. And drums. The procession of the Borgo San Lorenzo brigade began and breakfast was going to have to wait. They lined up in front of the Duomo to put of their show of their music and flag throwing demonstrations. It was amazing to watch! The dedicate to tradition is something we always admired, especially when we were in Asti and Florence, so it is an Italian trait we love to observe.
After their show, we quickly got a bit to each before watching the donkeys selection. There are nine borgo (neighborhoods) in Alba. And some combination of donkeys with numbers and jockeys with numbers set up the selection. It was very difficult for us to follow along but somehow all the donkeys got selected and were taken out of the Piazza for Palio preparation.
We were fortunate to have our friends from Milan join us for the rest of the festivities of the day! We grabbed lunch at Voglia di Vino while we caught up over all life’s activities and adventures. A bottle of 2016 Barbera d’Asti (check!) from La Grisa (means grey like the fog that Piedmont hills experience.
We each got a pasta off the menu. I ordered gnocchi pomodoro (gnocchi in a tomato sauce), which was a great variation from the pastas of the trip I was normally ordering.
Kevin got the Tajarin in a ragu.
We were ready and fulled for an afternoon of Palio!
Our tickets indicated to be at the Piazza Cagnasso by 1400 (2PM) upon we arrived a few minutes after to people already lined up around the track. We walked all the way around to snag our small plot of railing where we would be for the next few hours.
And then we waiting. Just before 1500 (5PM), a parade started with the traditional horns, drums, and flag throwing. The opening we anticipated for the Palio.
Then came two and a half hours of each of the nine Borgos presenting a historical reenactment, each of varying lengths and spectacle. Some kept it simple to tradition while others reenacted full scenes with stages and props, and other used fire and Broadway style productions. They were all amazing to watch but we did not expect to wait almost three hours for the Palio to actually start. Knowing this ahead of time would have helped our expectations of the Palio starting but the productions were amazing to watch. There was a winner but it was unclear what the qualifications were and what the prize was- perhaps I will need to research!
And all that waiting- it was all insanely worth it. Saying “you have to be there” is true but honestly, I do not think anything I can write will capture the amazement we had of the entire event.
The Palio had three races, four laps per race. Each race had nine horses, one for each Borgo, and each Borgo had two rides for each of the two races. This year, two young women rode for the first time, which was quite exciting news from the commentator. The first race were the “untrained” donkeys and the second race were the “experienced” racing donkeys. Then, a final third races of the top finishers of each race would compete for the final placement.
Getting the donkeys to the start line was one thing and getting them to start at the “pronto!” start was almost impossible. Through both races, a series of comical events during each lap kept us reeling with laughter and cheering on every rider struggling to have a donkey move, stop eating, or go the right direction. You can tell the riders all want to win, but were really having fun with it. And that the donkeys are all well treated by the riders.
At the second race, four donkeys turned around and went the other way. Other times they created a barrier for the donkeys actually managing to make a lap seem impossible. Some donkeys kept a light constant walk for the entire duration of the race. One jumped outside the hay barrier into our railing area- very exciting stuff. One race was- wait for it- a photo finish that needed review while another start was called back after a lap because it was not a fair start for all the donkeys. The passion and dedicate was oozing from everyone. It was all amazing! Enjoy all these photos of the donkeys that were not as competitive!
The final race of champions actually had three donkeys and riders that were quite competitive. I do not know what a normal year is like but it kept us all screaming and cheering for every donkey and rider. In the end, donkey and rider 19 won and the crowd went wild.
We were all exhausted, leaving the track at 18:30 (6:30PM)- four and a half hours here! I am glad none of us had plans that evening because we all assumed the race would occur at 1500 and be over in a half hour- we were all wrong and that was ok by all of us! We experienced someone incredible.
In dire need of a snack, we stopped by La Romana for gelato, reminiscing over the races and looking at each other’s videos and photos capturing the event. We then parted ways, so grateful that we got to share this with someone because I am not sure anyone would believe what we just saw if not!
As we walked, all the Borgos were march back to their neighborhoods so we always found ourselves surrounded by horns, drums, and flag throwing.
We decompressed at the Airbnb before making our way to our final dinner at Osteria dell’Arco. The inside was a traditional osteria, no fancy frills, just old school serving up piedmontese dishes the old fashioned way.
I think we completed the Piedmont wine series by ordering a bottle of 2017 Arnes from Bricco della Ciliegie. This dry white wine is crispy and delicious, perfectly refreshing after a long day on our feet.
My entree was the Tortelli con burro e tartufo nero (ricotta cheese tortelli with butter and black truffles). Tortelli are larger tortellini (-lini meaning small, tortelli (pasta) lini (small)!) and they were pockets of perfection with simple ricotta cheese.
Kevin ordered the potato gnocchi with rabbit ragu. When the dish came out, he questioned if it was correct since typically ragu means a red gravy with meat whereas this was a white gravy. They explained that this is not uncommon and that the rabbit and pasta are able to stand out. He agreed that this version was good, even though it was not what he expected. The gnocchi were like little pillows or marshmallows so soft and light. You can always tell when gnocchi are made fresh. In America, gnocchi, ravioli and other stuffed pastas are often referred to as heavy dishes but if the gravy is simple and the pasta is fresh, these are not heavy dishes. We had these almost every night and never once was it “heavy”.
I saw someone’s meat dish as we walked in and I was in the mood to have another pigeon-like dish that Kevin got earlier in the week so we decided to split one. We decided on the Braised veal in Barolo to share and when the portions came out, we were almost concerned we got two servings. Until I saw a full portion come out of the kitchen and realized it was defintiely half. While it was not the type of meat dish I was looking for, it was very tender and tasty so it was a good choice to try something different.
I saw the bunet go by resembling the two bunets before. I would not make the same mistake. No more bunet. I looked through the dessert menu and Kevin and I found two to order so we could each try each others and not end up bunet-ed again.
We got an order of the Piedmont hazelnut semifreddo and the hazelnut and chocolate cremino. If you haven’t already noticed, Piedmont loves their hazelnuts. The original producers of what is now known as Nutella, hazelnut spreads have been here forever. There there are not vines, there are hazelnut trees. It is the oil tree equivalent to Tuscany. No land is left unused and since the vines are only planted on the hills, the flat areas all get hazelnut trees.
I think we have done it! These two were fantastic. The hazelnut semifreddo tasted exactly like caramel covered popcorn and the cremino was chocolate decadent perfection. Glad to have gone out on a high note with the desserts!
Our final walk to the Airbnb down Via Vittorio Emanuele- quiet now after a full day of celebration.
Long and early travel back to Milan for our flight back to JFK airport. Perhaps next time we will consider renting a car and driving as it was another four hour trek back to the Milan Malpensa airport. The trains were on time and comfortable but 6AM departure for a 1PM flight was a but much! But if that is the way, it will not stop us from returning to Piedmont again soon.
Check in on this white truffle we are bringing home. I opened the refrigerator and it smelled so potently of truffle, I was concerned we bought a monster truffle. Through all the trains, I took it out of the bag to air out since it will surely stink my entire bag all everything inside for an eternity. I am not sure we did this correctly but only time will tell!
(UPDATE: We used the truffle on Friday and it was great!!! I bought this truffle shaver and with a lot of butter successfully recreated our favorite meal!)
This was certainly a short trip but we were able to accomplish so many things for the perfect birthday trip. We ate the most incredible food, drank exception wine, tasted wine through the vineyards of Piedmont- even from the barrel, explored the white truffle and participated in one of the oldest traditions in Alba. I cannot think of a better way to learn about a new place then to live these types of experiences. There is something so magical that brings us back to Piedmont and will keep us coming back for more.
|Wednesday||Evening||Flight to Milan|
|Afternoon||Explore Alba||Voglia di Vino
|Friday||Morning||Barolo Wine Tour||Caffe Vergnano|
|Saturday||Morning||Truffle festival||Caffe Vergnano|
|Evening||Barolo tasting||La Piola|
|Afternoon||Medieval Parade||Voglia di Vino|
Osteria dell’Arco- confirmed
|Monday||Morning||Travel to Milan|