Something for Everyone at the Napa Truffle Festival

small truffle for WP

By Stephen Ferry

Have you ever been curious about truffles?  Novices and experienced connoisseurs alike will find plenty to inform their minds and entertain their palates at the fourth annual, Napa Truffle Festival, which will run January 17-20 this year.

Events will include winery, truffle lunches at Nickel & Nickel and Hall Wines, seminars covering truffle cultivation, business and cooking at the Westin Verasa, an elaborate Truffles & Wine Dinner at La Toque, where four Michelin-star chefs will work together to prepare one big, glorious, multi-course meal, and a Festival Marketplace at Oxbow Public Market that is free to
the public.

The Napa Truffle Festival is presented by the American Truffle Company, which was founded five years ago by ATC Managing Director, Robert Chang, and his partner, London-based, mycologist (fungi expert) and Chief Scientist, Dr. Paul Thomas.

Thomas has developed a method to cultivate black, European truffles, which are indigenous to Europe, but not to North America.  Thomas works with partners around the globe to develop truffle orchards, and Chang is his partner for North America.

ATC has partnered with both the Napa County and Sonoma County Farm Bureaus to present a series of truffle cultivation seminars.  All twelve seminars staged over the past couple of years have filled up.

Four years ago the, first truffle orchard in Napa was planted by Robert Sinskey in cooperation with ATC, and it serves as a demonstration truffle orchard for the Napa area, where anyone can make an appointment and view the progress of the planting.

A lot of truffle orchards have been planted across the US, but none are yet yielding fruit, as it usually takes at least five or six years for a truffle orchard to begin to bear fruit.  Orchards started in other countries some years earlier under Thomas’s guidance have already started bearing fruit.  Once established, a truffle orchard will require much less annual maintenance than a comparably sized winegrape planting, and the potential for profits is high.  No chemicals are used in the propagation of ATC’s truffle orchards.

There are literally hundreds of species of truffles, but only a select few species of European, black truffle are really high-end.  The most prized species is the Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum, aka ‘black diamonds’), which sells for big bucks – $800-$1,200 per pound.  The Burgundy truffle (Tuber aestivum/uncinatum) fetches a slightly lower price, but yields more prodigiously.  Either way, truffle orchards can be quite profitable.

In addition to reaching out to growers to generate interest in establishing truffle orchards, Chang’s American Truffle Company presents the Napa Truffle Festival each year as a way to reach out to the public and educate the consumer about the culinary aspects of truffles, particularly spotlighting the black, winter Périgord truffle.  Chang first visited festivals in Oregon, North Carolina, Australia, and Europe, and then took what he saw as the best elements from each to create the Napa Truffle Festival.

The four Michelin-star chefs will converge from around the world.  The host chef is Ken Frank of La Toque, who has been involved since the first Festival in 2010 and, this year, will be joined by: Alessandro Boglione, Executive Chef and Owner of Ristorante al Castello, Castello di Grinzane di Cavour, Italy; Carrie Nahabedian, Executive Chef and Owner of NAHA, Chicago, Illinois; and Jarad Gallagher, Executive Chef of Chez TJ in Mountain View, California.

On Monday, January 20 (Martin Luther King Day), all of the merchants of Oxbow Public Market will be offering their own truffle menu items for the Festival Marketplace between 10am to 2pm.  Menu items will be sold à la carte, so that anyone can come and get a taste.  The Marketplace is free to the public for browsing and purchasing truffle fare à la carte. Proceeds benefit the Napa Valley Food Bank/CAN-V.

There will also be free cooking demos, wine tastings, book signings, and other activities as well, including a chance to win a Marketplace Basket or a real black truffle.  This is the perfect time for someone who has wondered about truffles, but maybe not actually tasted them, to come down and see what the buzz is all about.

Information about all of the Festival events and tickets are available on the Festival website:

Check out some of these offerings that will be available Monday, January 20th at the Oxbow Public Market:

Anette’s Chocolates  Rustic, rolled, dark chocolate truffles with roasted almonds 

Ca’ Momi Enoteca  Pizza al tartufo, paired with 2012 Ca’Momi Pinot Noir, and a cooking demo at 12:30pm

C CASA   Wild mushroom and goat cheese truffle enchilada, paired with Blue Plate Chenin Blanc

Cate & Company  Bite-size truffled potato and  zucchini quiche   

The Fatted Calf  Truffled pork crepinette, with Comte, caramelized onions, arugula and truffled aioli 

Five Dot Ranch Beef ribeye carpaccio, with black truffle and celery root mousse 

Gott’s Roadside French fries tossed in truffle butter, paired with Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut    

Hog Island Oyster Bar   Grilled truffled oyster

Kara’s Cupcakes   Truffle festival, cookies and cream cupcakes, decorated with little pink pigs  

Kitchen Door  Cream of mushroom soup, with fresh, grated truffle AND Egg pappardelle with winter mushroom bolognese and fresh, grated truffle with poached egg, along with a cooking demo at 10:30am 

Marshall’s Farm Hone Organic, gourmet honeys from the mountains, valleys, seacoasts,  and backyards of the San Francisco Bay Area

The Model Bakery Wild mushroom-truffle, savory, bread pudding 

Napa Valley Distillery Truffle-infused martini cocktail:  Napa Valley Vintage Reserve Vodka, served with olives and cheese (includes a signature Napa Valley Distillery cocktail glass)  

The Olive Press Fig, balsamic, caramel truffles AND Blood–orange, olive oil truffles 

Oxbow Wine and Cheese Merchant House–truffled, Mt. Tam cheese

Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen Truffled yucca fries

Three Twins Ice Cream  Organic, caramel-truffle-swirl ice cream, plus a special discount on all shakes

Whole Spice Truffled popcorn and fleur de sel 

Napa’s Chefs’ Market Starts May 17, 2012

Napa’s Chefs’ Market – Season Begins Thursday, May 17, 5 to 9 p.m.

Regardless of when summer starts anywhere else on the planet, it begins in Napa on the opening night of Chefs’ Market, arguably the most well-loved, mid-week market in the state.  Now in its 18th year, Chefs’ Market is a free, weekly, outdoor street festival.  It features six blocks of family entertainment, including three stages of music, a block-long farmers’ market, two chefs’ demonstrations, activities for the kids, arts and crafts, beer & wine, and more good food than you can shake a stick at.

“Last year, we added the ‘Truck Stop’ on Randolph, featuring food trucks, oven-baked pizza, NY style franks, and lots of other great food that people loved,” said Julie Morales, from the Downtown Napa Association, the person most responsible for keeping Chefs’ Market fresh and interesting every year.  “This year, we have even more in mind.”

“More” is the key word that drives Morales and her partner-in-planning, Nikki Guardino, who is a key part of the Market staff.  Chefs’ Market has always been for the community, but Morales and Guardino have cooked up a couple of ways to help schools and non-profits as never before.
The new “School of the Week” program involves having a different school at the Market, manning a booth to showcase their school.   They will also host a fun activity for the children attending.  Donations from new Chefs’ Market sponsors, Red Dragon Martial Arts and Napa Pediatric will enable the schools to both offer the activity free of charge, and help them make money for any programs that
could use support.

A similar weekly program will feature a “Non-Profit of the Week.”  Different service clubs will man a wine booth, splitting the proceeds with a designated non-profit group.  This will mean two groups benefit each week.

The only time Morales and Guardino think “Less” is when it comes to garbage, which they want to keep to a minimum.  “We have a ‘GO GREEN’ Team in place this year,” said Morales.   “Paul Bartelt, troop leader of Boy Scout Troop 83, the largest troop in Napa Valley, will have over 60 Scouts available to make sure that the only thing that gets thrown away is trash.  Everything else will get recycled or composted.”

This will also be the first time that dogs are not allowed at Chefs’ Market. “It’s actually the law, and always has been,” said Morales.  “State law says that dogs are not allowed within 20 feet of food, including farmers’ markets.”   It’s an issue organizers have never strictly enforced.  For the past ten years, “No Dogs” signs have been at the entrances of the Market. Staff approached people and asked them not to bring their pet the next time they attended, but the number of dogs gets larger every year.  “We’ve erred on the side of being ‘good guys,’ instead of obeying the law” said Morales.   “We can’t run the risk of having the Market shut down.”

The fact that dogs aren’t allowed at the Market will come as a surprise to some people who are unaware that the law prohibits their attendance.  Some attendees are in the habit of going for a walk with the family, including the dog, and stopping by the Market to pick up vegetables for the week, or maybe a beer and turkey leg.  Morales doesn’t want them to show up and be turned away from entering. “We’ll set up a couple of tables at Main and First so that, while one family member stays there with the dog, others can roam the Market.”

Chefs’ Market would not be possible without the generous support from sponsors, including the Napa Valley Marketplace, Blue Moon Brewery, Wells Fargo Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Team Superstores of Vallejo, The Bohemian, The San Francisco Chronicle and Xfinity.

Enjoy the Market.  The musical line-up alone is a good reason to come out this year. Opening night acts include the Pandemonium Steel Drum band, always a crowd favorite.  Chefs’ Market is the best bet for a fun night, and it’s always free.