I'm in a go-cart with wipers - a car, I think they call it in Europe - following my bliss to the tiny village of Acqualagna in the Marches, a little-touristed province in central Italy. Actually, I have several blisses. But the bliss on this occasion is white truffles.
The self-proclaimed world capital of truffles, Acqualagna throws an annual truffle festival during the autumn truffle season. Acqualagna is not as famous for truffles as Alba, a town in the northwest of Italy. But Acqualagnans maintain that the white truffles found in its woodlands are bigger and better than Alba's. They say, further, that Alba gets white truffles from Acqualagna and sells them as their own. It's not an idle boast. "A great many of those truffles that claim the Alba name," says Marcella Hazan in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, "actually come from the Marches."
At this point, I should probably point out that nothing about white truffles makes sense. First, there is the name - truffle. It's too frilly, something a saggy-cheeked English aunt might exclaim as an expletive in a Merchant Ivory film - "Oh, truffle, we've no marmalade for our high tea!" The word doesn't at all describe the thing itself, which, by the way, isn't a chocolate. There are, yes, chocolate truffles. But they are named after the real, actual truffle. Which is a fungus. A really stinky fungus.
Truffles smell like wet socks and taste like dirt. Yet along with diamonds and the presidency, white truffles are among the most expensive things money can buy, costing roughly a thousand dollars a pound. (There are black truffles, too, but while they are also smelly and taste like dirt, they don't stink quite as much or taste quite as dirty and are therefore not as prized as white truffles.)