Eureka – A Truffle Revolution Comes to Wine Country
For the longest time, Americans have savored the coveted truffles harvested in European countries. Now, the
elusive black truffle is embarking on a revolution here on our very own culinary turf. Thanks to American Truffle Company™’s founders, Robert Chang and Dr. Paul Thomas, ‘black diamonds’ are now being cultivated in truffle orchards around the country.
Chief Truffle Officer Robert Chang tasted his first truffle in 2003 at an Italian trattoria in Munich, Germany, where he ordered a simple preparation of tagliatelle pasta tossed with butter and topped with fresh shaved black truffles. It rocked his world. “It was love at first bite,” he said. Wanting to know everything about this incredible food- what, where and, most importantly, how to grow them, he did some research and found Dr. Paul Thomas, one of the world’s leading mycologists at the forefront of truffle cultivation. They met in England, Dr. Thomas’ home turf, and talked truffles-for hours. Dr. Thomas was already working with truffle growers in Europe with plans to expand. Why not North America?
In 2007 they launched the American Truffle Company™, focusing on the winter Périgord and summer Burgundy—the two most highly sought black truffles of the culinary world—and last year, Eureka! They harvested their first truffle right here in wine country. With orchards now spanning from the west coast to New Jersey in the east, as well as throughout 25 countries on four continents, they’re expecting to have a booming North American truffle business.
10TH ANNUAL NAPA TRUFFLE FESTIVAL
To build awareness of black truffles, in 2010, Robert launched the Napa Truffle Festival. That first year, people thought it was a chocolate event. Now in its tenth year, the festival presents a multitude of activities, including a seminar on the science/business of truffle cultivation for potential growers, and engaging, interactive programs where people can see, taste, and evaluate various species of truffles. There are also wild mushroom forays in a local forest, truffle orchard tours with dog training demos at Robert Sinskey Vineyards Truffle Orchard, and extraordinary culinary offerings prepared by Michelin star/master guest chefs from around the world, including cooking demos, two Winery Truffle Lunches (this year hosted by Del Dotto Vineyards and Raymond Vineyards) and a Truffles & Wine Dinner at La Toque. The festival weekend finishes on Monday, January 20 (Martin Luther King Jr Day), with a grand finale (free) Marketplace at Oxbow Public Market that gives the public an opportunity to see cooking demos, meet the truffle dogs, purchase truffle dishes à la carte and buy fresh truffles to take home (recipes included).
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT TRUFFLES… THE FUNGI KIND
Truffles are an underground mushroom that grow on the roots of certain trees. There are thousands of species of truffles, but the most prized are the European Périgord black truffles (aka black diamonds), primarily known for their exquisite flavor. Because they are rare, they command exceedingly high prices; CBS News “60 Minutes” named them: The Most Expensive Food in the World.
The dazzling, irresistible aroma of truffles has captivated humans for centuries. Their lore is mythical, filled with mystery and superstition. Ancient Egyptians thought truffles sprang from the ground where the gods struck lightning bolts and devoured these godly gifts coated in goose fat. The Greeks and Romans used truffles for therapeutic purposes, believing they provided eternal health to the body and soul. In the middle ages, the church condemned their exotic aroma as the creation of the devil, dubbing them ‘witch’s fare.’ Thanks to King Louis XIV, truffles made a comeback during the Renaissance as a culinary delicacy and a darling of the noble class.
According to legend, truffles were discovered by a farmer who observed his pig digging the subterraneous mushroom up from the root of a tree. Truffles emit a scent similar to the sex pheromone found in male pigs, which drives the female pigs absolutely wild with desire. For years, sows were used for hunting truffles, but extracting them from their eager mouths proved treacherous, causing many hunters to lose a digit or two. Today, dogs are used for the hunt—by far, a more affable and obedient alternative.
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PHOTOS AND ARTICLE COURTESY OF NAPA VALLEY TRUFFLE FESTIVAL