***This is part 6 of my “Everyday I’m Trufflin’” trip report detailing a recent European road trip which started in Zurich, Switzerland and ended in Piedmont, Italy***
2. British Airways Business Class San Francisco to Zurich
3. Zurich Marriott Hotel
4. Eating Zurich – Sausage, Fondue, and Christmas Markets
5. Eating Milan – Shopping, Cathedrals and Pizza
6. Eating Piedmont, Italy – Truffles, Wine, and More Truffles
7. My Thanksgiving Day Truffle Hunting Adventure in Piedmont, Italy
8. British Airways Business Class Zurich to San Francisco
Our two-day pit stop in Milan had come to a close, and it was now time for the main event. After all, this was the entire reason that we had decided to road trip south from Zurich to Italy. We hopped in the car and after a short hour and a half drive through the Italian countryside we arrived in the Piedmont, or Piemonte, region.
The Piedmont region is located in Northwest Italy and is well-known for several things. Perhaps most famously is its wines, and in particular the Nebbiolo grape that is used to make Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Piedmont is also well-known for hazelnuts, and you can even visit the Ferrero Rocher chocolate factory in the city of Alba.
But as much as I like wine and Nutella, I was here for one thing and one thing only, the TRUFFLES. The Piedmont region is where you go for white truffles, with a world-famous annual White Truffle Festival that begins in mid-October and runs through mid-November. Even though we had arrived around Thanksgiving and had just missed the festival, the white truffle harvest still carried on through the end of the year.
White truffles are considered to be the cream of the crop in the truffle universe, and far superior to the black and summer truffles that you’ll find in other parts of Italy and in France. That superiority comes with a price, and white truffles can run into the thousands of dollars per pound, especially if they have been exported to other countries.
Our first stop was for lunch in the town of Alba, but even with our reservation looming just 15 minutes later and the restaurant literally in sight, we couldn’t help ourselves and stepped into this pizza shop for a pre-lunch snack. There is just something inside me that draws me to pizza, like a moth to a flame.
The dining room had only eight tables under the gorgeous hand-painted pink fresco that had been in-place since the restaurant opened.
The service was great from start to finish, and the waiter and sommelier helped us figure out the perfect food and wine pairings for this afternoon’s meal. Before any of our actual dishes came out, we received a series of snacks. The restaurant took great pride in its vegetable garden, and almost all of the dishes we had during the meal highlighted something from that garden.
Between the pre-lunch pizza and all of the snacks I was already starting to feel full, and we hadn’t even gotten to any of the actual courses yet!
No other dish on the menu highlighted the vegetable garden better than the “21…31…41 salad”. Those figures were in reference to the number of different types of vegetables in the salad, which varied based on the season. Today’s version was the “31”, and there was even a card which listed all of them out. The salad was only dressed with a light spray of lemon.
On paper this basically looks like a pile of raw vegetables and flowers sprayed with lemon water, and most of you are probably thinking, “what the hell is so special about this?” All I can say is that the flavor and taste of these vegetables were unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and even led my friend to definitively proclaim that this was “by far the BEST salad I’ve ever had in my life”.
The celery root appetizer was delicious, and was paired with a cream sauce along with fresh hazelnuts.
But the prize for best appetizer went to the scallops, which to top if off, got a showering of white truffles. The white truffles at Piazza Duomo were extremely high quality, both in terms of the physical shape of the truffle as well as the taste. That quality came with a price, which was 7 Euros per gram. While this was still much cheaper than the going rate for imported truffles in the US, most of the other restaurants we visited in Piedmont charged something closer to 2-3 Euros per gram.
We also tried the rabbit which was amazingly good, and the presentation of the dish was quite whimsical with the meat paired with carrots to form a rabbit shape, and then placed in the middle of a garden.
And my wife loved her foie gras, which was at the bottom of the pile of fruits and vegetables below.
For the pasta dish, all of us chose the restaurant’s signature cheese agnolotti, and of course had it topped with shaved white truffles. Before today I’d only tried truffle oil and had shaved black truffles once. But I quickly realized that there really was no substitute for the real thing, and with the white truffles, every single bite of this dish was like a party in my mouth.
After the meal it was time for some wine tasting, and we visited a couple of wineries on the way to our hotel. By mid-afternoon we were ready for a siesta and headed over to the small town of Castiglione Falletto to check in to our hotel, the Relais Casa Sobrero. Casa Sobrero is family-owned and doubles as a winery and B&B, and overall was a great place to stay. The rooms had recently been renovated and the service, led by the owner’s daughter Federica, couldn’t have been better.
The small town of Castiglione Falletto was super cute, and featured just a handful of other inns and restaurants. For dinner, we walked into town and over to the Le Torri restaurant. As much as we liked fine-dining at Piazza Duomo, it was a blast to eat at some of these small Italian eateries, which had amazing food at a fraction of the price.
As we thought about our wine selection for the meal, we nibbled on a fried cheese-filled crepe.
Our goal was to not have a single meal that didn’t include truffles. The hotel’s truffles weren’t as aesthetically pleasing or high-quality as the ones at Piazza Duomo, but who cares when you can get a small mountain of it shaved all over your food.
Half the table had their truffle dish in the form a a cheesy fondue egg.
While I had mine over some freshly-made tajarin, which is a traditional egg pasta commonly eaten in the Piedmont region.
The desserts were also great and we all ordered the same dessert trio.
After our feast, we rolled ourselves back to the hotel where we slept like babies after all the food and wine consumed that day. The next morning we were up bright and early and headed downstairs to the dining room for breakfast. While this would traditionally only be considered a continental breakfast, it was the best cold breakfast I’ve ever had in my life. Every single item, from the bread to the salami to the cheeses, were made locally and tasted completely different from the pre-packaged stuff that you get at the supermarket.
With some time to kill that morning we went for a stroll around town, and just as the sun was rising in one direction, the moon was still out in the opposite direction.
It was fun to watch a group of kids pile into their version of the yellow school bus to head out to school.
And we took a leisurely stroll through some of the vineyards around town.
The remainder of that day was spent on a somewhat crazy wine and truffle bender that I’ll touch on in the next post. But we did manage to sneak in one more meal before leaving. Truffles on raw beef? Not the first combo that comes to mind, but I took a leap of faith and trusted the waiter’s recommendation. I’m glad I did since this was delicious.
I had become obsessed with tajarin, and this was my third time eating it in the past 24 hours. This version was served with a hearty meat sauce.
Lastly, of course I couldn’t leave Italy without having my favorite dessert, tiramisu.
48 hours really wasn’t enough time to spend in Piedmont, and on our final day, we all walked away with the feeling that we could easily have spent an entire month there. If you love food and wine, I’d highly recommend adding a trip to Piedmont during white truffle season to your bucket list.