FCI 011 – Opera and Truffle Hunting in Alba with Fidel Gamboa
There were a few key events in the mid 2,000’s that led to my affection for Italy, and meeting Fidel Gamboa was one of them. We worked together in my dental practice in Florida for a couple of years, and every day I listened to him talk about his dream of studying opera at one of the major conservatories in Italy.
Eventually I saw him realize that dream when he was accepted to the school in Parma. He quit his dental career, sold all of his things, and moved to a city that he had only visited during one short audition. He didn’t even speak Italian at the time. Needless to say, I was happy for him–and more than a little jealous. It took me another 5 years or so to make the leap myself, but when I did, one of my first stops was in Parma to look up my old friend to see how he was doing. And he was doing just fine, living the bohemian lifestyle, and pouring his heart and soul into his music.
Fast forward 5 more years and we are still great friends, even if both of our lives took unexpected turns. These days he has a growing business selling fresh truffles from his wife’s home region of Piedmont to all the buongustai (foodies) back in the U.S. Now instead of practicing his arias, he’s truffle hunting in Alba and enjoying the company of his newly arrived son, Diego. However, he’s still willing to belt out a short piece of Verdi upon request. (Listen to the podcast to hear the opening bars from Che Gelida Manina.)
Truffles are cool. Even if you’ve haven’t yet acquired the taste, the mystical quality of them alone is enough to pique the interest of anyone who loves regional Italian cuisine. Even just locating them is cross between stalking rare game and panning for gold. You need a well-trained dog, a lot of patience, and fair measure of grappa to warm you up against the damp mountain air.
Then even once you have them in your possession, they’re not immediately appealing to the uninitiated. Essentially, they’re a dirty fungus that stinks to high heaven. But clean them up and grate them over your pasta, and a sort of alchemy takes place before your eyes, nose, and palate that transforms these grubby knobs of subterranean mold into something sublime and surprisingly delicious. Pair your dish of truffle pasta with a nice glass of Barolo and you’ve entered gastronomic Nirvana. Your taste buds will never be the same.
During our interview, Fidel shares some more truffle lore with me, including recipes, tips for storing your truffles, and a recent auction for the world’s biggest truffle that was sold for over $130,000.00!!!
I would like to give a big “GRAZIE, GRACIAS, and THANKS” once again to my good friend Fidel for taking the time to explain the enigmatic, misunderstood truffle to me. He has promised to take me truffle hunting in Alba in the fall, and I plan to hold him to that. But even without being plied with promises of culinary delights, I’d still go just to see my old friend, visit a new region of Italy, and say “Ciao!” to baby Diego for the first time. I can’t wait. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that he lives next door to the Nutella headquarters!
Please visit Fidel on his Facebook Page for fun photos, videos, and updates from the land of the magical truffle. Then when you’re ready to dive into the deep end of the flavor pool, click over to his website to purchase a nugget of pure taste pleasure, which has fallen from heaven and buried itself in the rich Piedmontese soil. Buon appetito!
His Website: Casa Truffle