Posted in Italy on May 29, 2011 by Victoria Allman
“Here is a good place,” Stefan, our owlish truffle-guide told us as we entered the forest. We were just outside Alba, in the Piedmont region of Italy. We had spent the last few days in the wine country, staying in a 19th century Gothic castle, hemmed in on three-sides by the Alps and discovering the simple, rich food of the area. It was early June and black truffles had just started making their first appearances on summer menus. With the first bite, we were hooked and wanted to go find some for ourselves.
Kira, our guide’s English pointer bounded ahead of us, tongue-wagging the whole way. The enthusiasm of her five years almost equaled our own. Patrick’s blue eyes shone as bright as Kira’s black ones. If it were not rude, he would probably hang his tongue out of the side of his mouth in excitement of what was to come. Piedmont had been on our list of places to visit for years and hiking through the hazelnut and oak forests in search of the elusive truffle was the ultimate culinary experience.
Black truffles are an uncultivable mushroom. They are more common than the highly-prized white truffle, but their habit of growing underground, away from sight, limits their numbers. They are held in the highest esteem by chefs and foodies alike, often called the “diamond of the kitchen”. In the last few days, Patrick had developed an unnatural affinity for them shaved paper-thin over his eggs in the morning and then again on buttered toast in the afternoons. He was becoming either a gourmand or a glutton, depending on the way you looked at it.
For the past year and a half, the memory of one dish of pasta has haunted me.
It was our first and only night in Genoa, Italy. We arrived tired and worn from a long day on the train. We lugged our bags, heavy from everything we would need for the next two years of travel on the boat, down narrow streets to the busy port. Frustrated by lack of taxis and grumpy from empty growling stomachs, we stopped at the first restaurant we came to.
It was nothing special, just a few plastic patio tables and chairs overlooking the commercial port. A laminated menu translated a handful of pizzas and half a dozen pastas into a comical form of English. Smelly Blue Cheese seated on Linguini was the one that made me smile. But, I opted for a simple dish of Pesto Pasta that I ordered with Drink Water. I was too tired to try and think of anything more exciting.