Cycling in Piedmont: Day Two. Truffle Hunting and a Trip to Barolo

Itinerary for the day

We started the second day of the Piedmont bike tour with a truffle hunting excursion in the woods. Tour leader Cristiano Bonino introduced us to a longtime dog trainer, puppy-in-training in tow, and we learned how they train, how they introduce the dog to truffles (put pieces in their food) and why pigs aren’t used any more (they can’t dig). 

It was a short ride to the woods from Alba. We stopped at a bar for a coffee break and to meet the trainers in Gallo d’Alba.

Meet the group:

As I’ve written in earlier posts, the region surrounding Alba is home to white truffles.  They grow wild in the forest and training dogs to find them is a specialty and, in the words of Pierre Carlo, a second trainer we met, a real passion. 

Pierre Carlo placed some truffles in the woods, just to see if Rocky, a 13-year veteran hunter, and Pippo, a rookie at four months, could find them. They aced that test and then some. Pippo was finding them all over the place. For a mushroom that will go for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars at auction, they are not elegant in appearance.

Pierro Carlo and Pippo

But then we passed around one of Pippo’s bounty and whew, the aroma was so distinctive, so strong, so truffle!

Truffle season is generally mid-September to the end of January. When they are their most aromatic, the dogs will find them quickly. But Pierre Carlo explained to us that they basically just have to go to the woods every day and keep hunting. Our guide Gian Luca gushed over just how special truffles are. “When you invite people over for dinner and you’re serving truffles, invite the least amount of people. That way there’s more for you,” he said. I’m pretty sure he was serious.

After our truffle-hunting sojourn, we hopped back on the bikes and made our way to the village of Barolo. It was a little bit of a climb to get there but, as usual, the countryside was picturesque  and I took my time getting there.

This was my second visit to Barolo and I was hoping to visit the corkscrew museum but, alas, it was closed. After a quick lunch, I set off to find some place with a plug so I could charge my phone. I happened upon a specialty shop and enjoyed the conversation with the clerk, Federica, while she let me use her power and charge my phone. She studied art at the La Brera art museum in Milan and loved visiting MOMA in New York City. She also couldn’t understand how I’d never been to the Grand Canyon. (She has.)

I walked out with a sack of “Bacio di Dama,” for the group. These are sandwich cookies with hazelnut spread in the middle, a Piemontese specialty. 

In Barolo. Che bella! (photo by Sue C)

Our next stop was the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo (the regional enoteca of Barolo) and we enjoyed a tasting of three different vintages. Barolo is a big wine. I bought several bottles after my visit five years ago and I still haven’t decided when I’m going to drink them. Maybe this is the year!

Dinner that night at a restaurant called L’inedito was again a lesson in Piedmontese specialties, starting with vitello tonnato, (veal with tuna sauce) giardiniera, a beef tartare, and porcini mushrooms. A bowl of plin pasta followed.

 On our way to the restaurant, we took a little tour of Alba and saw the preparations for the International Truffle Fair and the Donkey Palio. This is a serious, not-so-serious donkey race, started all those centuries ago as a way for Alba to mock Asti and its horse race.

We also happened to be in Alba during the unveiling of a large piece of art in the middle of a public square. It’s a statue of an outline of a little girl named Alba, “Gena’ in local dialect. She stands 12.5 meters tall and is made of stainless steel. Gian Luca gave us the scoop:

“It was originally going to be unveiled at the start of the truffle fair but the town decided to do it earlier because it was Saint Michele Day. The square is dedicated to Michele Ferrero, who founded Nutella. Ferrero’s family wanted to donate something special to the town of Alba so they decided to pay for the new statue over a black marble fountain.

Gena’ means reserved. Which is a very common aspect of Piedmontese people. Reserved but proud and reliable. So the Ferrero family wanted a statue which can represent the town of Alba and their people and be recognized as a symbol of the town.”

The whole town was out to see it. What a nice end to a very good day.

Next: a big ride on a rainy day.  

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