Scenes from the 2014 Napa Truffle Festival

There’s never a dull moment in Napa. After writing about the emerging truffle industry in wine country, I was invited to participate in a weekend’s worth of tasting and information events about truffles. A few highlights:

Eating cockscomb

At a truffle lunch at Nickel and Nickel Winery, I learned from chef Carrie Nahabedian of Chicago’s NAHA that eating cockscomb is something I should do more often. A bowl of celery root soup held a morsel of goose topped with a sliver of cockscomb. Brined and then confited, the cockscomb had a firm edge that gave way to pure smoothness. (The closest food, texturally, that could serve as comparison is seared tofu.)

Carrie Nahabedian's celery root soup and confit goose with cockscomb

Carrie Nahabedian’s celery root soup and confit goose with cockscomb

Pair mushrooms with mushrooms

Almost every chef who works with truffles does this as the flavors reinforce one another. Nahabedian’s arctic char featured frizzled hen of the woods mushrooms in addition to shaved black truffles while chef Todd Humphries of Napa’s Kitchen Door paired hen of the woods (maitakes) and king mushrooms with black truffles in a cream of mushroom soup.

Place setting at Nickel & Nickel luncheon

Place setting at Nickel & Nickel luncheon

Fats love truffles

Black and white truffles have a potent aroma which will be absorbed into many foods. Italian chefs preserve truffles by burying them in Arborio rice. Others place them inside a container of eggs or cream or infuse them into butter to impart the aromas to these foods. Beef carpaccio is another popular choice and the one served by Five Dot Ranch was a morsel of heaven.

Carrie Nahabedian's arctic char with black truffles and maitakes

Carrie Nahabedian’s arctic char with black truffles and maitakes

Dogs love truffles, too

With the American truffle industry just getting under way (read more about the emerging Napa truffle industry here: http://ediblemarinandwinecountry.com/uncategorized/theres-something-about-truffles/, more people are training their dogs to hunt truffles. According to Alana McGee, founder of the Truffle Dog Company, any dog can be taught to find truffles and they undergo training that is similar in style to dogs that are trained to sniff out bombs for the military. Each country has a preference for which type of dog it uses with Spain preferring Spaniels and Labradors and Italy preferring the Lagotto Romagnolo. The key is to choose a dog that fits your lifestyle. “It is a myth that dogs don’t eat the truffles,” says McGee. “Just like the pigs that were traditionally used, training is the key.”

Bill Collins & Rico, the truffle dog

Bill Collins & Rico, the truffle dog

Bill Collins owns Rico who came to truffle hunting after digging up countless indigenous truffles along the San Francisco Bay’s Marina May Parkway. “He loves the work,” says Collins.

A Truffled Martini

Perhaps most interesting of all was the idea of a truffled vodka martini from the Napa Valley Distillery. Though unable to serve their distillations (license restrictions), the guys at Napa Valley Distillery offered a cherry shrub infused with white and black bitters at the Festival Marketplace at Oxbow Public Market. At first, the cherry seemed to dominate the more delicate, subtly earthy flavor of the truffle, but a few minutes on and the signature character of the truffle kicked in. Aroma of truffle wafted from the glass and the drink found its legs. As with most things in life, a little patience made all the difference. Click the arrow to watch Paul Martin, Napa Distillery’s Tasting Room Manager, give the play-by-play.

Five Dot Ranch Ribeye Carpaccio with black truffle

Five Dot Ranch Ribeye Carpaccio with black truffle