Author of over thirty traditionally-published books for young readers, Margo Sorenson spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy, devouring books and Italian food and still speaks (or tries!) her childhood languages. Her most recent Adult/Young Adult novel, SECRETS IN TRANSLATION (Fitzroy Books, October 2018), takes place in Positano, with heroine Alessandra, whose being able to speak Italian helps her to feel at home in Italy, once again, although, she doesn’t have any truffles—just plenty of Limoncello. www.margosorenson.com
At La Villa Favorita, the amazing B&B just outside the medieval town of Alba, our gracious hostess Roberta’s recommendation for our first dinner in Alba was La Bottega del Vicoletto, a small, unfrequented-by-tourists (like us!) in Alba. After parking the car outside of the town walls, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner of a delicious egg pasta suffed with cheese in a wine-butter sauce, with (of course) shaved truffles—white truffles being another reason to visit Il Piemonte and Alba; Roberta astutely warned us to be sure and be careful about the amount of truffles we were served—the server keeps grating the truffle, until you say, “Grazie, basta!”), because truffles are (almost!) worth their weight in gold, and they charge by the gram, more or less. Luckily, my Italian did help somewhat moderate our dinner costs, but, oh, those truffles!
Breakfast the next morning in La Villa Favorita was an epic meal of homemade jams (from their garden’s fruit), breads (baked in their kitchen), coffee, salumi, and cheeses. Roberta suggested that we drive to the town of Barbaresco, (yes, the vino of the same name), for our day’s trip, and after navigating the narrow roads of the neighboring hillsides, we enjoyed the wine, tasting the famous vintages. Next night’s dinner was at Profumodivino in Treiso, another picturesque hill town, and we had their special truffle prix-fixe menu. It was incredible, beginning with an appetizer of an egg dish baked in cream with (naturally!) shaved truffle. We didn’t think anything to follow could top that amazing taste, but the veal tartare with salt and truffle, an egg pasta tagliatelle with truffles, and roast beef with Barolo wine sauce and truffles
After our next morning’s breakfast in the gazebo al aperto, Roberta suggested we drive back to the ancient medieval town of Alba, and park in a municipal lot outside the town walls, and enjoy the 80 th International Truffle Festival, to which hundreds of international restaurateurs and celebrities (Stephen Spielberg, for one) come for the truffle-bidding. As an example, in 2019, a huge white truffle weighing 1 kilo and 5 grams (2 ¼ lbs) was auctioned off for 120 thousand euros, almost $142,000 in US dollars. Truffles are not that attractive, (that is an understatement), but, in a meal, they are exquisite.
When we found a spot—among the Bentleys and the Mercedeses—in the lot in the pouring rain, we discovered that the parking meter asked for two Euros in coins, which we didn’t have. A young man in a business suit climbed out of the driver’s seat of a Bentley next to us, spotted our concern, and, in Italian, I asked him if he could give us change. Generously, he promptly gave us the coins as a gift! At first, we thought he must be the owner of the Bentley, but, I noticed his scuffed shoes. Aha! Shoes are key in Italy, as you probably know. He must have been the chauffeur, we guessed, and how kind of him to take pity on the clueless American tourists! That sort of thoughtfulness on the part of Italians is another precious memory of our trips to Italy and another of the many reasons I treasure my early childhood there.
Once inside the town walls, we were treated to one vivid and colorful spectacle after another—marchers dressed in medieval costumes, representing their respective borgos and comunes, throngs of people watching them, and stalls with vendors hawking their wares, including the incredibly ugly truffles. No, we chose not to purchase any! The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, and people were thoroughly enjoying themselves, celebrating their heritage and their famous truffles. Before we retrieved our car outside the town walls, we stopped for a glass of Arneis and some panini in a tiny café, a retreat from the rain, grateful for the blazing fireplace and the warm conversations swirling around us in the Italian language—not a word of English to be heard. We were truly in la bella Italia; the Italian language had worked its magic, once again, drawing us back into a rich and historic culture.