Posted by: acooksca | 01/19/2012

Tastes of the Napa Truffle Festival

Leslie of Beringer Winery greets us at the door

I can not get a photo of Rico. He bobs and swishes, turning toward each outstretched hand that he clearly expects from the gathering crowd. Just behind Enrico Bacio il Tartufaio (Rico for short) his guy holds the leash and explains that Rico is a descendant of an ancient breed, Lagotto Romagnolo. These curly-haired water dogs from central Italy have been used since Etruscan times to locate truffles. Rico works his sensitive nose with enthusiasm in Northern California and Oregon, locating native varieties of fungi.

I am at the Napa Truffle Festival in the Oxbow Public Market with three friends from the local wine and food industry. We all wonder if Rico is going crazy with all the truffle scent he must be tuning into. Half of the two dozen food merchants in the marketplace are offering truffle-infused tastes.

C Casa hands out mini tostadas of white beans with truffle goat-cheese, topped with orange-cumin dressed greens. Oxbow Cheese Merchant has inserted truffle slices into wheels of Mt. Tam cheese and let them rest for three days to absorb the aromatics. Pica Pica Maize hands us a plate of hot yucca fries with a truffle aioli dipping sauce.

At 10:30 we gather around the Kitchen Door’s elegant expanse of marble and learn the technique to make a creamy truffle vinaigrette (see Cook’s Note below) for their mixed chicory salad with pickled walnuts and persimmons. It is a cold morning and we head for the comfort of The Model Bakery’s mushroom-truffle bread pudding, buying an extra portion to share. The Fatted Calf, a retailer of meats and house made charcuterie, has a classic offering of rough-textured truffle duck pate nestled in warm lentils.

Caulifower creme tops bites of wellington

The manageable crowd allows us to move at a relaxed pace without waiting more than a minute in any line. In between bites we sashay between tables of local wineries, matching food to wine. There are some big names like Beringer. Mid-sized wineries such as Raymond (a lovely 2009 Chardonnay with just a kiss of oak) and Robert Sinskey (pouring their balanced POV Bordeaux blend) are represented. And some tiny wineries, such as Bialla Vineyards. This winery, the epitome of hand processing (de-stemming the fruit by hand, crushing with their palms), is handing out tastes of their lush, non-tannic Cabernet that sells for $125.

“Hot pan coming through” rings out behind us and a tall man in kitchen whites slides by. He carries a sheet pan of diminutive rolls of pastry enclosed fillet. I keep hearing passing remarks about beef wellington so we follow him. Five Dot Ranch meat shop is topping one-bite portions of beef wellington with a slice of truffle and a foam of cauliflower crème. The crème gently catches the aroma of the truffle slice and smoothes its texture. Something I heard during the cooking demonstration stuck with me. “Try not to complicate the dish, let the delicate aroma of the truffle shine.” This simple recipe, rich with the flavors of beef, pastry and truffle, works particularly well.

Christina of Re dei Funghi (King of Mushrooms)

The final taste is a surprise and a delight. La Crepe offers a petite rollup crepe filled with truffle pastry cream topped with a wafer thin slice of truffle. Wonderful…earthy, sweet, unusual. There is one last thing to do…head to the King of Mushrooms table and buy my own rare “black diamond” (see the following Truffle Risotto recipe). I ask Christina and Todd to choose one for me as they are the top truffle experts in the market…after Rico.

Cook’s Note: Truffle can be used in multiple ways to accent a salad. Shavings of truffle are pureed with a few tablespoons of a neutral oil to toss with baby beets, diced cooked potatoes or fruit. To make creamy vinaigrette for greens whisk 2 tablespoons of the truffle-oil puree with 3 tablespoons lightly flavored vinegar, 3 tablespoons lightly whipped heavy cream, sea salt and a dash of sugar. Use a micro plane or fine cheese grater to add truffle shavings to the greens, or for an extravagant touch shave whole slices onto each salad.



  1. Wow……what an event!!! and as ususal a great article. nice photo of Christina. I always wondered what truffles were all about now know (well a little more than before)

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