A recap on Alba, which appeared on The Korea Times with some unfortunate outcomes.
My article about Alba was published on Monday on The Korea Times, but for some reason, the layout was pretty bad and they even got the headline wrong. It was supposed to be the “glorious world of wine and food” but they wrote “wind and food.” WHAT. Not cool, very not cool. So not wanting to share that embarrassment, I’m posting the article here, along with some of the photos I sent.
Stuttgart, GERMANY— It’s no news that Italy is famous for its wine and food, but there’s one place where you can try the best of the best, even among the Italians: Alba, Piedmont.
Alba is a little town of Piedmont, close to Milan and Turin and mostly famous for its white truffles and wine production. Mention “Alba” to any Italian, and he or she is bound to mention something about the food or wine.
A truffle is basically a fungus found underground, famous for its distinctive taste and aroma. The most commercially valuable ones are known to be the white truffles, which are, in fact, known as “trifola d’Alba” in Italian, which means “the truffles of Alba.” This in itself is a true testimony of how Alba is abundant and important in the white truffle business. They look like little white rocks, but when you slice them up with a knife, you can find the delicate, pale creamy flesh with white marbling, plus the very distinctive aroma that cannot be replicated with any other ingredient. On the other hand, black truffles are a bit more common and easier to find, but nonetheless, a valuable and expensive ingredient when it comes to truffle cooking.
It’s nearly impossible to grow truffles, both white and black, and because they look more like rocks than mushrooms, it’s tricky to find them with the naked eye. A method “truffle hunters” used to use was pigs. Truffle hunting would be carried out during the night for two reasons: this allowed the pigs to concentrate easier and also because the owners didn’t want to give away the truffles’ locations. After a few years, the pigs were switched to dogs, as the former would eat more than they would bring back and because dogs were much easier to train. Some farms offer truffle hunting sessions and tours, so for those who are interested in testing your luck and bringing home your very own, be sure to reserve spots.
The International Alba White Truffle Fair is one of the best ways to experience the savory fungus effortlessly. Every year, the city of Alba invites travelers, chefs, foodies from around the world and help them experience the special mushroom in different forms. Wine and truffle stands are everywhere around the city, with restaurants rolling out special menus just for the occasion and various events, tours and activities set to attract everyone, young and old, Italian and no-Italian.
At the festival, visitors can learn more about truffles through various exhibitions, cooking shows by chefs, seminars by writers and experts and wine tastings and pairings. And knowing the Italians who are already very much interested in food and wine, expect to wait in line for anything truffle-related.
The most popular and easiest way to enjoy truffles is sprinkling them on a pasta dish, or anything for that matter. You can purchase both white and black truffles at shops but if you don’t want to spend so much money on a small piece, you can also buy truffle-infused products such as olive oil, pesto or honey.
The festival is held October 8 through November 27 this year, so if you have plans to visit northern Italy, visit www.fieradeltartufo.org for more information.
Wine is a very important source of culture and tourism in Alba, not to mention national and local pride. There are around 290 wineries that cultivate some 1,700 acres of land, producing an average of 61,200 hectoliters annually. Langhe, the hilly region where the city Alba is located is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural landscapes, wineries, vineyards and winemaking history, and it doesn’t take an expert to realize the significance wine has to the area.
Thanks to the rich soil and adequate sunlight, the region is blessed with many different types of excellent wine, some even the finest in the country, including Barolo, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barbaresco.
“The name of the region Langhe has a Celtic origin that means the ‘tongue of the ground’ and it refers to the stretched hills that are steep and narrow. This makes a very unique backdrop to some of the most prestigious wines in Italy and the world,” Massimo Sobrero, sales manager from Salvano Vini told The Korea Times. Salvano Vini is one of the many winemakers of the region and has been producing some of the best quality wines from the 1930s. After wars, change of ownership and updates on various sectors, the winery and seller has now reached the homes and tables of many wine lovers around the world, including the U.S., Germany, China and now even Korea.
The wines from Italy are divided into three categories: the DO (designation of origin), DOC (controlled designation of origin) and the DOCG (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin). While the DO is seldom used nowadays, the DOC guarantees the quality of the wine and basically means that that particular type of wine is from a designated area. The DOCG, which is the highest classification for Italian wines, goes on to not only guaranteeing the area but also indicates that these particular wines were analyzed and tested by a committee of wine experts before they were bottled and those that passed the strictest regulations regarding the authenticity and quality. Famous DOC wines from this area are Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo and DOCGs are Barbaresco, Barolo and Moscato.
“There are only 325 DOC wines produced in Italy and the Piedmont area produces 44 of them, while among the 41 DOCG wines, 12 of them are from Piedmont,” Sobrero explained.
“It’s easy to see how important the wine industry is through the people who actually work for it. There are some 12,000 people involved in the industry and this is quite a number for a region of some 31,000 inhabitants. We refer to the ‘magic triangle’ when explaining the secret ingredients of Langhe wine: the environmental traits such as soil and climate, the local grapes and the people.”
The raw meat
Alba is one of the few places in Italy where you can eat raw meat. Even for some Italians, it’s a specialty. The raw meat sold in Alba is mostly in a sausage form called Salsiccia di Bra, which means “salsiccia of Bra.” Bra is a small city very close to Alba, while salsiccia is an Italian sausage.
According to historical records, the specialty was forbidden in the entire country, only with the exception of Bra where the few chosen butchers were allowed to produce it. Since it is meat and in a sausage form, it’s also possible to grill and cook it, but many locals and even travelers prefer to enjoy it raw, especially with an excellent glass of wine from the region.
Many restaurants around Alba have raw meat menus as Salsiccia di Bra, or even just simply tartara or even carne cruda. You can also find very good quality raw meat and salsiccia at butcher shops, which you can easily find on any street or corner within the city. Pop by and ask for some Salsiccia di Bra, and most of the butchers will be more than glad to sell some, along with a long history of the distinctive dish.
Rachel Sang-hee Han is a former staff reporter at The Korea Times and former editor at CNN Travel. She lives in Germany and runs a travel blog at rachelsanghee.com.
For more in-depth info and stories on Alba, check some of my other blog posts.
All photos by rachelsanghee. This article was published on The Korea Times March 14, 2016.