Travel: Nine Days in Northern Italy

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Northern Italy in November… nothing could be more fun and “ful”filling! Thoughts of white truffles and Barolo danced in my head. Our amazing, fun and hilarious friends, the Robleses, joined us for this most anticipated adventure sans children. Venice, Piedmont, Milan, oh my! It was nine days filled with eating, drinking, laughing, truffle hunting, wine tasting and yes, even a little shopping – I was in Milan, can you blame me?

Drink

We visited our favorite Barolo producers Cappellano, Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno which was an amazing learning experience for me. Even though I know that Barolo is made from the nebiolo grape, seeing the different regions throughout the area spoke volumes about the wine. The incredibly steep landscape where the grapes grow was mind blowing, especially in Monforte where Conterno is made… No wonder it is such spectacular wine.

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Eat

Our trip was filled with one incredible meal after another. I ate truffles until I smelled like one! But, outside of Venice we stopped in a small town called Lughetto for one of the most amazing meals of my life. I do not want to get in the habit of reviewing restaurants, but the restaurant da’ Cera was a truly magical experience.

It was an incredibly beautiful space filled with tables dressed in fine white linen and orange suede chairs. The food, focused predominately on fish, surpassed my highest expectations – it was so unbelievably clean, delectable, and gorgeous. We devoured an eight course-tasting menu (which ended up being about 10 due to the added compliments from the chef…so much for my skinny jeans). Some of the highlights included “around the clock” – 12 offerings of crudo called Colors of the Sea; a soup of Broccoli “fiolaro” from their garden with red shrimp and melting egg, which was to die for; and Spaghetti carbonara with scallops, clams and white truffle. The service was impeccable, we had our own English-speaking attendant designated to our table and the wine list was incredibility well chosen for the context of the menu. We began with Bruno Paillard Rose then a 2007 Terlano Winkl Sauvignon followed by 2007 Schiopetto Blanc de Rosis.

My advice to you is that if you are anywhere near, or not even close to the proximity of this restaurant, do yourself a favor and go. It is truly a destination restaurant that is worth the effort. http://www.osteriacera.it

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Garden

We were in Piedmont in November, and truffles were in the air and in the ground. You cannot travel through this region and not smell that unique and beautiful aroma. We have relished in the delight of white truffles for years, yet never have we dug them out of the ground! I must admit, even as an avid gardener, I was a little skeptical at first, but our experience was quite wonderful and completely amusing.

Most truffle hunters set off in the early morning (the moisture in the air helps the dogs find the truffles easier). Unfortunately, that type of timing was not so attractive to four jet lagged travelers with dinner plans beginning at 9pm every night. So we began, albeit, still a little sleepy, at the more civilized hour of 11am.

Our guide’s family has been finding truffles in Roddi since 1880. He is the official truffle finding dog trainer in the area. Roddi, which is smack in the middle of Alba and Barolo, is an area rich in all things good for truffles…oak trees, hazelnut trees, and willows. In great anticipation, the four of us set off on our first truffle hunt. But wait, what does one wear to hunt truffles?

While we were hunting (ok, we actually just followed the dog), our guide educated us about the truffle. What I learned from his tutorial was that truffles consist of 90% water and are basically mushrooms that come from scattered squirrel droppings.  Fascinating, and just the visual you want!!! Also, anyone’s land is fair game…all you need is a license and a dog, and you can hunt on any property.

The dog, Leila, was a mixed breed and white in color. Color and a talented nose are really the only prerequisites for the dogs. Their coat cannot be dark because they won’t be found in the dark, which is primarily when all the truffle hunts take place. As we were hunting under hazelnut trees, Leila would sniff around and then all of a sudden start digging and then the guide would run over to stop her, hand us a pick and then we would unearth the truffle. We found 10-12 black truffles that day, more than I ever imagined finding. Sure beats a day at work…oh, wait this is my work!

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