Travel Flashback: Le Langhe, Slow Food, and Truffles

Today I launch another new series on my blog. Living in Rhode Island, I don’t always get out to new, exciting places and therefore lack new content. However, while I was abroad last fall I noted time and again that I’d have a lot to write about once I got back, so I’m now pulling from those memory archives to share some old stories. Here’s the first.

On my program trip to Turin last fall, we made a couple of stops along the way to and from Piedmont’s principal city. On our way up, we stopped at the seat of the Slow Food movement at the L’Università di Scienze Gastronomiche (or University of Food/Gastronomy). The Slow Food movement started in Italy as a response to fast food, and its name is in English to cheekily mock American fast food. While it’s been a while since I visited, here’s what I remember. Students come to the school from across the globe to learn about agriculture and cooking. Every year some embark on study trips around the world to learn more out in the field and travel to places like Peru or Thailand.

After touring the grounds, we ate at their restaurant, where students prepared incredibly fresh and well made foods for us, along with some of the best focaccia I’ve had to date. They served us a tiny, whole fish– bones, eyeballs, and all–which I made a valiant effort with but couldn’t quite overcome.

On our way back from Turin, we stopped in Alba for the Truffle Festival (Fiera del Tartufo). Chaos engulfed what would otherwise be a sleepy Italian town: medieval reenactors blew trumpets and marched around, people threw elbows to get to the polenta table, and there was so much going on that I didn’t feel like I got to absorb any of it. At any rate, we had a quick tour of Alba and then hopped over to a tent where different farmers and vendors were selling all sorts of truffle products. While the price tag to buy anything was beyond my reach, the ticket to get in meant that I got my fill of “free” samples. Instead of truffles, my lunch would be back at that polenta table I mentioned earlier (no elbows were thrown in the making of this blog post…maybe).

Finally, we retreated from the chaos and drove out to Le Langhe, the rolling foothills of Turin. We’d learned a bit about Le Langhe when studying Beppe Fenoglio and Una questione privata (A Private Affair) in our writing workshop, so I’d been looking forward to putting a name to a face, so to speak. The fog, which Fenoglio includes in Milton’s riveting search for Fulvia during WWII, had seeped into the vineyards and hills and was quite scenic though haunting. To top it all off, we visited a local vineyard, sampled some wines, which being Piedmont meant Barolo and Barbaresco!

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