The kids are off school for the long weekend and I have a few quiet minutes to write. A contemplative, thankful few minutes. It’s Thanksgiving today and I don’t have to be American or live in America to appreciate the thought behind it. As one of my yoga teachers used to say “Be thankful for all you have, and love yourself – even that little roll of fat on your tummy. You have borne children, you have enough to eat….give thanks for that. Don’t obsess with your body, just love it”. Works for me. I LOVE the perspective!!
In many cultures across the world, autumn is the traditional time for thankfulness for a good harvest, remembrance of those who have lived before us and renewal and rejuvenation for the earth and those on it. In China, Vietnam and Myanmar they have the Moon Festival/Lantern Festival (the moon is a traditional symbol of fertility and continuity), in India in a space of 8 or so weeks we observe Shradh, and celebrate Dussehra and Diwali – each of which is heavy with the symbolism of thanks, rejuvenation and remembrance. Moving Westwards we have All Souls Day in Europe and the Day of the Dead in Mexico. It’s amazing that the Ancients were not connected the way we are, but they related to the seasons and the cycles of the earth so similarly.
In Italy I have been following an autumn ritual of my own – for the last 3 years have religiously made a `pilgrimage’ to that temple of flavor – Alba, which is in the Piemonte region of North Italy. And the presiding deity of which is the Alba White Truffle. Truffles of course are essentially, basically `mushrooms’ – but that’s where the resemblance ends. They grow below the earth, in the autumn, and hold within themselves, a deep and mysterious fragrance that belies definition (atleast in my limited vocabulary). Shaved onto simple dishes like fried eggs or boiled spaghetti, they transform the simple into the gourmet.
There are black truffles and white truffles and the most prized of all in the world is the Alba White. Gram for gram it is more expensive than gold and the larger specimens are globally auctioned off with much fanfare (apparently the best are bought by secret consortiums of Hollywood bigwigs). Whatever!
Every autumn Alba plays host to the Fiera del Tartufo, the International White Truffle Fair. Truffle `producers’ from all over the region gather to display and sell their wares – not just truffles but also truffle-infused products – rice, polenta, oil, honey, pate and chocolate! The fair also showcases the other fabulous local products – the wonderful wines of the Piemonte region (including the famed Barolo and my favourite Moscato d’Asti), grappa, cheese, cured meats, dark chocolate and pasta. Even the local artisans get into the mood of things and display their wares – I bought a hand-crafted and customized walnut wood bread board 3 years ago and I love it to bits! It will make a guest appearance on this blog at some point.
So what do you do at the fair? Walk around and inhale the heady aromas, sample the wine, the cheese, the chocolate and the salami, chat with growers and artisans, buy some of the products on offer, drink some more wine, eat spaghetti with truffles, eat some chocolate, drink still more wine…you get the drift…
So what contributes to the hype around truffles? Is it the mysterious flavor? Is is the limited supply (truffles are sniffed out by specially trained dogs, and are dug up , but cannot be cultivated)? Is it the legendary aphrodasiac properties it has? Or is it just superb marketing and branding? I don’t know. What I do know is its unique aroma and the comfort of an annual ritual make it special for me. And for the opportunity to experience something so special, I give thanks.