Days of Stars and Truffles

Alba is a vibrant, exciting place live and to visit. It seems that something fun is always happening in Alba but nothing tells Alba’s story quite as dramatically as the annual Truffle Festival. The 83rd edition International Festival of the White Truffle of Alba is shaping up to be the best ever and an event emblematic of Alba’s increasing stature as an international destination.

This year the inaugural ceremony took place not only in Alba’s civic theater but simultaneously at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In the opening days of this years festival, Alba has already been invaded by thousands of visitors, many of them foreign journalists. Good weather and an excellent crop of truffles has made the savory experience of being surrounded by the pungent fungus even more enjoyable. 

There is no question that Alba’s white truffle is a superior tuber but there is something unique about the Alba psyche that has elevated the festivities in Alba to the stratosphere. Very much like the great entrepreneurial industries of Alba, the festival has achieved it status due to great leadership and visionaries who see possibilities and not limits. Our friend Antonio Degiacomi is again heading the festival organization and Alba’s city government is an integral part of making it the great success that it is. 

Three days after the opening ceremony in Alba, Mayor Maurizio Marello was at Eataly in New York City to present a prize truffle to Italian entertainer Renzo Arbore. Joining Arbore in the Columbus Day celebration at the foodie Mecca created by Alba’s Oscar Farinetti were singer Jovanotti, actress Isabella Rosselini, actor Enrico Brignano, author Alessandro Baricco and Farinetti himself. Paola Farinetti, the sister of the Eataly founder and a member of Alba’s giunta was also on hand for the celebration. Not only does the world come to Alba, Alba comes to the world, and with great style.

Seeing celebrities on the streets of Alba or in its famous restaurants is also a very common occurrence. In addition to the many notables who have come to Alba to receive the prestigious Truffle of the Year, there are many who come just to enjoy Alba and its culinary treasures.  Jay-Z jetting in for truffles and wine or George Clooney on his Harley in Alba’s ancient streets are not the extraordinary events they would be in most towns. There are also Alba’s home grown celebrities such as Piazza Duomo’s chef Enrico Crippa, Olympic medalist Francesca Fenocchio, cyclist Diego Rosa and rising Ohio State basketball star Amedeo della Valle

Alba has certainly been blessed by history, nature and geography but it is what it has done with those blessings that sets it apart from other cities of Piemonte, Italy, Europe and the world. The successes of Ferrero, Miroglio, Mondo and Eataly are not accidents and they seem to have one thing in common, the spirit of the Albesi.  Whatever has driven these companies to greatness is also reflected in the culture of the Langhe and Roero. Achievements in literature, art, music and sports attest to that same great spirit that has uniquely put Alba on the world stage.

A good friend of mine has considered doing a study of the origin of Alba’s greatness. Like me he has wondered what unique Albese quality gave the world Beppe Fenoglio, Pinot Gallizio, industry giants like Ferrero, the young heroes of the Italian Resistance, a Roman emperor and Cavour, the local mayor who became Italy’s first prime minister.  Perhaps it is no one thing but a unique combination of factors that serendipity bestowed upon Alba.

Recalling how unremarkable both Medford and Alba were when we became sister cities over a half century ago I often wonder if there is a formula that could have elevated Medford to the level that Alba has reached. That thought brings to mind a memory of an elderly man on the street in Alba and his unforgettable knowing smile. I imagine the proud twinkle in his eye and a face weathered by decades of hard work and experience, as he slyly says to me, “perhaps”. 

Doug Snider