I just returned from the most erotic, exotic, earthy, smelly and totally unforgettable G-rated weekend of my life and I swear I’m never washing my hands again. It was the 4th Annual Napa Truffle Festival, produced by the American Truffle Company (ATC) where world class cuisine met cutting edge truffle science, which translates to learning everything you ever wanted to know about truffles- from cultivating them, hunting them, to tips on the best ways to buy, store and cook with these pricey lovelies. From January 17-20, attendees could take advantage of seminars geared toward potential growers, attend chef demonstrations, learn the secrets of training a truffle dog, join a hunt at Robert Sinskey’s new truffle orchard (led by Rico, the truffle dog) forage for mushrooms with the Bay Area’s leading mycologists, shop for “black diamonds” at the Oxbow’s artisanal marketplace, and ingest these fabulous funghi at truffle-themed, gastronomic feasts prepared by internationally renowned Michelin Star chefs.
Below are ten amazing truffle tips, tricks, recipes and lies that were unveiled this weekend by Ken Frank, Executive Chef/Owner of Michelin Star, La Toque restaurant at the Westin Verasa, Napa.
Note: Chef Frank says he has eaten more truffles than anyone he knows. He bought his first fresh truffle in 1976 from legendary Sacramento food and wine merchant, Darrell Corti, and he’s been hooked ever since.
1. The best way to store a fresh truffle is to carefully wash it, pat dry and store in a paper-towel lined, sealed Tupperware container. Frank said, “No matter what, don’t do something stupid like storing a truffle in raw rice. All it does is dry out the truffle.
Tip: To get the biggest bang for your truffle buck, you can put a couple of wrapped sticks of butter or raw eggs in the container. The aroma will easily permeate the shells and wrapper. Use both to make a decadent omelet, further enhanced with some truffle shavings.
2. According to Chef Frank, ”There is absolutely zero flavor difference between wild or farm-raised truffles and if anyone says otherwise, they are full of shit! I’m excited about our local orchards and believe that they can produce truffles every bit at good as their European counterparts.” He said that farm-raised Australian truffles are now “spectacularly good” and he can’t wait until he can call up a neighboring farmer and say, “Could you please drop off a couple of fresh-picked truffles this morning?”
It takes approximately five to seven years for a truffle orchard to start producing. Frank’s nabe, Robert Sinskey Vineyards planted truffle-inoculated trees in 2010, so hopefully Frank won’t have much longer to wait.
3. Commercial truffle products (truffle oil, honey, salt, etc.) are a fraud! Because of truffles very short shelf life, real truffle flavored oil is simply not a viable product. Commercially produced truffle oil is invariably artificially flavored, no matter how fancy the bottle or prestigious the purveyor, they are all chemically made utilizing a synthetic derivative, 2,4-dithiapentane.
4. Truffles are best eaten ASAP since they lose half their flavor after the first week. If you want to store for later use, the best way is to fold shavings or minced peel scraps into butter, and then freeze for later use.
Tip: Add truffle butter to hot angel-hair pasta, with a little Parmesan, for a glam dish. Frank told us, “Butter is really good with truffles. Too much butter is never enough.”
5. A scrumptious way to show off your truffle is to get a nice creamy cheese (Chef Frank recommends Mt Tam from Cowgirl Creamery) and carefully cut it in three layers. (He wraps fishing line around two wine bottle corks and holds the corks firmly to slice even layers.
Shave fresh truffles over each layer, and then put back together. Be sure not to cover it completely or else the cheese layers won’t adhere. Wrap the cheese tightly in saran and let it infuse for 48 hours.
6. When it comes to selecting a truffle it’s all about freshness and fragrance. You want one that feels firm and not too spongy, unless you plan on using it that day. This is one case that bigger is not necessarily better (think golf ball to lemon-sized) and you do want a truffle with smooth skin and not a lot of warts.
I know how mean it seems to go on and on about an event that is already over so I just have two final tips for you:
7. Check the website for the dates of The 5th Annual Napa Truffle Festival napatrufflefestival.com
8. For the best romantic, gastronomic Valentine’s dinner (also available nightly through the end of fresh truffle season, typically early March) plan a relaxing stay at Westin Versa Napa where you can indulge in:
La Toque’s 32nd annual Truffle Menu
Turnip Black Truffle Bao
Truffled Free Range Egg with Brioche
Champagne Veuve Cliquot
Skuna Bay Salmon Slow Cooked in Duck Fat with Fresh Black Truffle
2011 El Molino, Chardonnay, Rutherford
Winter Vegetable Salad with Short Rib and Fresh Black Truffle
2009 Nerello Mascalese, “Tascante”, Tasca d’ Almerita, Mt. Etna, Sicily
Devils Gulch Rabbit Ballotine and Bratwurst with Fresh Black Truffle
2007 Barolo, Sarmassa, Brezza Giacomo & Figli
Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam Ripened with Black Truffle, Truffle Toast
Toasted White Chocolate Truffle Crème
2008 Ceja, Dulce Beso, Carneros, Late Harvest
Truffle Menu $200.00 Wine Pairings $85.00
* If you already have Valentine’s plan this menu is also available nightly through the end of fresh truffle season, typically early March.
The Westin Verasa Napa Hotel offers the perfect getaway spot for your Napa Valley experience. You can park your car and forget about it since the hotel’s peachy-perfect location, overlooking the soothing Napa river, is just a block from the Oxbow Public Market, and then just a short stroll to the heart of downtown, where you can sip your way through 15 Napa Valley wine tasting rooms. Upon you return you can take a dip in the heated saltwater pool and hot tub, book a massage in one of the poolside cabanas, or exercise at the newly remodeled WestinWORKOUT® fitness studio. Oh darn, but you forgot your workout clothes. Lucky for you, Westin has recently partnered with New Balance to provide athletic shoes, socks and apparel during your stay, for just $5 per visit, so there goes that excuse! Your magical day ends with sweet dreams in the comfort of your Heavenly Bed.
The Westin Verasa Napa
1314 Mckinstry Street Napa, CA 94559