Appetizers

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Napa Truffle Festival closes with a luncheon and market

01/20/2014 1:21 PM

01/20/2014 1:28 PM

Today is the final day of the fourth annual Napa Truffle Festival, where “world-class cuisine meets cutting-edge truffle science.”

The festival began last Friday and continued over the weekend with truffle-centric seminars, winery tours, food-and-wine pairings, winemaker lunches and dinners, a truffle orchard tour and a mushroom-foraging excursion.

Today, the Festival Marketplace is taking over the Oxbow Public Market in the town of Napa, with cooking demonstrations, winetastings, special truffle-accented dishes, and locally sourced foodstuffs and wines for sale.

The festival sells out early each year, attracting foodies from all over California and a few foreign countries. It’s a big deal when you get truffles and wine on the same table. Truffles are delicacies in the global marketplace. Black truffles retail for about $1,700 a pound, while more-prized white truffles cost around $4,000 a pound. For centuries, truffles have been a treasured ingredient in haute cuisine, prized by master chefs around the world.

On Sunday, we caught the Truffle Festival luncheon at the very modern Hall Winery in St. Helena, which included a tour of the property. One attraction is its museum-quality art collection, a destination in itself.

But first we stopped at the Oxbow Market for a looksee. It’s where the beef is grass-fed, the poultry is free-range, the fish is sustainable, the produce is local and the clientele isn’t afraid to drop some bucks. Among the offerings are coffees and teas, gelato and pastries, olives and vinegars, cheeses and wines. The owners are considering opening a similar public market in Sacramento.

We found artisanal pizzas, flatbread sandwiches and handmade pasta at Ca’ Momi (“Obsessively authentic Italian”; www.camomi.com); one of California’s best cinnamon rolls at C Casa ( www.myccasa.com); sashimi-grade tuna at Kanaloa Seafood Market ( www.kanaloa.com); and an intriguing array of rubs and spices at Whole Spice ( www.wholespice.com).

Around the corner is the Fatted Calf Charcuterie, a great lunch stop that serves incredible sandwiches, along with meat and poultry by the pound ( www.fattedcalf.com). Want some duck fat or lamb broth for cooking? This is the place.

We moved on to the Hall Winery and a cooking demonstration and truffle-accented lunch, both by Michelin star-holding chef Jarad Gallagher of Chez T.J. in Mountain View ( www.cheztj.com).

The Truffle Festival luncheon was the inaugural food event to be held at Hall’s brand-new kitchen. After Chef Gallagher showed the 60 assembled guests how to prep a guinea fowl for a roulade-type dish, the professionally efficient servers began delivering the four-course meal. Each dish contained sliced or shaved black truffle, and each was paired with a different Hall wine (a suvignon blanc, a pinot noir and two cabernet sauvignons).

Lunch began with arancini (Sicilian rice ball) topped with the liquid essence of spinach, and moved to sliced Wagyu beef tongue and beet salad, and medallions of stuffed guinea fowl with various mustards and celeries. Dessert was a truffle-chocolate baklava.

We chatted with Robert Chang, managing director of the American Truffle Company, co-sponsor of the festival. His company sets up truffle-cultivation programs on private properties via planting trees with truffle spore-infused roots. The company has a presence in more than 20 countries, he said, adding that U.S. truffle orchards are still a year or two away from production.

Yes, the fifth annual festival is a year off, but it would be smart to start planning now. The 60 folks who attended this year are already doing just that.

Information: www.napatrufflefestival.com and www.americantruffle.com.

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