Nothing short of a gourmet’s dream, it was an epic epicurean truffle adventure.



“World-class cuisine meets cutting edge truffle science.” 


by:  Karina Mendoza Calayag

Spanning four days of non-stop activities last January 17th to 20th, the annual Napa Truffle Festival in its fourth year, brought the spotlight back on the glorified black Perigord truffle or Tuber melanosporum, as it is known scientifically. This year’s host wineries for the truffle lunches were Nickel and Nickel Winery and HALL Winery.

The black Perigord truffle, the featured truffle at the festival is said to be the preferred truffle among the chefs and because of this it is about three times the price of the white truffle.  From an investment standpoint for future truffle growers/orchard owners, it is an important piece of information when considering what kind of truffle to grow.

Each activity at the festival lent to the education, inspiration and ultimate enjoyment of the “black diamond” truffle.  There were truffle cultivation experts, scientists, and prominent guests from the gourmet and wine world, including Michelin star chefs who discussed, demonstrated and prepared paired truffle-wine signature courses.

And the scene-stealer of all scene-stealers, i.e., besides the truffles, the celebrity chefs, the food, wine and wineries and the many other highlights, were the very adorable truffle dogs (Lagotto Romagnolos), with their trainers whose presence added charm and smiles whenever and wherever they showed up.

The annual Napa Truffle Festival is presented by American Truffle Company.  Led by Robert Chang, Managing Director, with Partner and Chief Scientist, Dr. Paul Thomas,  ATC provides cutting edge scientific technology and know-how for would-be truffle orchard owners and growers.  From inoculated seedlings to startup design and continuing management, support and expertise, ATC promises to see their clients through to viable and profitable truffières or truffle orchards.

A big gap that ATC hopes to bridge is the delicacy’s half-life (think shelf life,) minimizing the time from when it starts its decomposition which immediately begins upon being harvested from the ground and to its final consumption at the table.  And because truffles are mostly imported from Europe, by the time it reaches the US or other countries abroad, the truffles have already shrunk and lost a lot of its distinctive flavor and aroma.

There is also the fact of the ever-growing number of dining aficionados, as well as the level of sophistication in this expanding gourmet and wine world, hence, the demand for truffles has never been greater.  Even with the exorbitant cost of a truffle, demand continues to exceed supply.

ATC‘s solution which essentially is likewise their goal, is to grow truffles locally.  This way the most discriminating chefs can include fresh truffles as they tout their farm-to-table repertoire, a big sound-bite and draw in today’s fine dining.

It is natural then for ATC to promote a deeper and broader awareness to truffles, thereby spurring an increase in interest all around, and thereby increasing consumption/demand, as well as, supply.  And what better way to do this than a unique and highly enjoyable festival, year after year, during the winter season, the black truffle season.

A black Perigord the size of about 1" x 2"  60 grams $150.00 at Oxbow Public Market. Market price is $2.49/gram

A black Perigord about 1″ x 2″ weighing 60 grams was being sold at $150.00 at Oxbow Public Market. Market price $2.49/gram.


Jumping To Conclusion


Fast-forward to the last day, the festival concluded on Martin Luther King day, with an open-to-the-public affair at Napa Truffle Festival Marketplace at Oxbow Public Market.  As you can imagine on this gorgeous sunny spring-like day (as it was the entire weekend,) the indoor market was packed with truffle lovers sampling the seasonal Perigord presented in various forms offered by local merchants who sold truffle products and served truffle dishes. I saw the usual truffle salt, truffle oil and new this year, truffle-flavored bitters for making interesting truffle-flavored cocktails.

Adding excitement were cooking demonstrations and a raffle with exciting grand prizes. Those who completed a vendor-visit-stamp card which was a fun incentive to go around and support Oxbow’s Public Market vendors, qualified to enter the raffle.



Ca'Momi Restaurant cooking demo and tasting

Ca’Momi Restaurant cooking demo / tasting – Napa Truffle Festival Market Place at Oxbow Public Market


Seamless Flow of Action


The four days were filled with truffle-related activities which could be participated either a la carte or via the different packages.

In spite of the busy itinerary, there was no chaos.  At the lobby of The Westin Verasa was a Welcome/Information Desk set-up serving as Napa Truffle Festival‘s central command station.  It was effective in making the guests feel secure and connected at all times keeping pace with the schedule of events.

The seminars, the Truffles & Wine Dinner (at Ken Frank’s La Toque Restaurant) were conveniently at The Westin Verasa as where most of the out-of-town guests stayed given the offer of discounted accommodation being an official sponsor of the event. A lovely, relaxing and rejuvenating place with fabulous facilities such as a heated saltwater pool and spa, I would definitely stay here again. It is also centrally located close to Downtown Napa and literally steps away from the Napa Valley Wine Train.

A shuttle bus was at hand for transportation to and from the hotel.  Another convenience, it was a great way to keep the schedule of the day’s activities in check.

Considering the number of events spread out in different venues throughout the weekend, which could potentially have been an ordeal to navigate through on one’s own, especially for those unfamiliar with the area (most of the attendees) the stress-burden of the logistics was lifted.

The management of the multi-day spread-out festival was truly exceptional and commendable, providing a well-informed, smooth and seamless flow for a nothing-but a pleasant, enjoyable and memorable experience.


The Highlight:  The Epicurean Weekend Diary:


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Skipping this year’s Scientific seminar (I attended last year’s and you could read my notes from that in last year’s article)  it was still an action-packed long-weekend of truffle immersion.

Nickel and Nickel Winery truffle luncheon began with a wine reception with truffle hors d’ouvres and a tour of the winery. The grounds were beautiful, serene with a couple of eye-catching historic houses, the Sullenger House, a restored, 1884 Queen Anne-style home, and a restored 18th century Gleason Barn and underground barrel aging cellar.  Nickel & Nickel wines, are a Sommelier’s wine and, proudly, single-vineyard wines.

One could say Nickel & Nickel’s excellence is “in the blood” or “in the genes” belonging in a distinguished family of wineries with sister wineries: The Far Niente, Dolce and EnRoute wineries owned by longtime friends and partners Beth Nickel, Erik Nickel, Jeremy Nickel, Dirk Hampson and Larry Maguire.

After the winery tour, we had an extraordinary lunch prepared by Trevor Eliason and Carrie Nahabedian.  The courses and the wine selection, by themselves, were superb, and worked wonderfully, harmoniously complimenting each other, together.  The service was top-shelf.



Nickel & Nickel Winery

Nickel & Nickel Winery


Nickel and Nickel Winery truffle lunch


Nickel and Nickel Executive Chef Trevor Eliason

Guest Chef Carrie Nahabedian of Naha, Chicago




Oysters Brindille

Oeufs Brouilles Aux Truffles

2012 Nickel & Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley




Celery Root Soup and Confit “New Year’s” Goose with Cockscomb – Potato, Garlic and Black Truffles

2012 Nickel & Nickel Stiling Vineyard Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma


Arctic Char – Fondant of Leeks, Jerusalem Artichokes and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Pinot Noir and Black Truffles

2012 EnRoute Pinot Noir, Russian Valley, “Les Pommiers”


Braised Short Rib of Beef and Veal Sweetbreads – Salsifis, Beluga Lentils and Black Truffles

2006 Nickel & NIckel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley

2006 Nickel & Nickel WItz End Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley


La Mangiodine French Cows’ Milk Cheese – Black Truffles, Candied Cherries and Persimmon, Port Syrup and Seeded Ficele

2007 Dolce, Napa Valley



Truffle dogs dig (and dig for) truffles.

Truffle dogs dig (and dig for) truffles.


After the delicious lunch, the group went on to Robert Sinskey Vineyards Truffle Orchard, the first winery property in California to join American Truffle Company‘s grower-partnership program.  The guests were shown the progress of the orchard which is close to maturity.  There was also a demonstration on how these adorable Sicilian Lagotto Romagnolos are trained and truffle-hunt.

Then it was back to the hotel just enough time to clean up and change outfits for dinner, the next truffle feast.

Saturday night’s exquisite Truffles & Wine Dinner at La Toque was prepared by a line-up of Michelin star chefs.  All courses, with truffles, of course, paired perfectly with the wine, like they were made for each other.


TRUFFLES & WINE DINNER AT LA TOQUE: Click photo for the slideshow.

Truffles & Wine Dinner at La Toque

Truffles & Wine Dinner at La Toque


La toque TruffleS & WINE dinner


Cocktail Reception


Turnip Truffle Bao – Crema di Broccoli al Peperoncino, Burata, Astice Tartufo Nero

Truffle Strudel – Gougere with Rabbit Liver Mousse and Truffle

Champagne Roederer Brut Premier




Chef Carrie Nahabadian – Naha, Chicago

Nantucket Bay Scallops, Delicata Squash, Salsifis and Black Truffles

Chardonnay “Wild Yeast”, Miner, Napa Valley


Chef Ken Frank – La Toque, Napa

Warm Winter Vegetable, Mushroom and Potato Salad with Short Rib and Fresh Black Truffle

Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Vielles Vignes, Vincent Girardin, 2009


Chef Allesandro Boglione – Ristorante al Castello di Grinzane, Cavour, Italy

Ravioli di Piccione, Infuso di Funghi Secchi al Porto, Julienne di Sedano a Tartufo Nero

Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba, Massolino, 2007


Chef Jarad Gallagher – Chez TJ, Mountain View

Chicory Rubbed Rack of Lamb with Fresh Black Truffle, Farro, Dried Fruits and Kale

Cabernet Sauvignon, White Rock, Napa Valley, 2006


Toasted White Chocolate Creme


Sommeliers:  Richard Matuszczak and Zoe Hankins


Sunday, January 19, 2014

An early start in the morning for wild mushroom foraging at Las Posadas forest.  Unfortunately, due to the extreme dry conditions which weren’t ideal for growing mushrooms, fewer mushrooms than the usual lot for this time of the year was found.  Mycologists David Campbell and Stephanie Jarvis led the group and shared a few tips on mushrooms.



Wild Mushroom Forage at Las Posadas forest

Wild Mushroom Forage at Las Posadas forest


The group made its way to Sunday’s truffle lunch at HALL Winery.  Greeted with a wine reception we toured the grounds revealing a sprawling collection of contemporary art, reminiscent of walking around the Guggenheim or some state-of-the-art museum.  Outdoors there were beautiful sculptures, huts from dried vine shaped like the cone of a soft frozen yogurt, an above the ground infinity water sculpture, and indoors, hanging on the walls of the modern high ceiling building were a huge tapestry of vibrant colors and a paper-stack sculpture that from afar looked like a painting.  At the deck overlooking the vineyard was a lookout multi-ocular “telescope”.

Downstairs, the dining room, also overlooking the vineyard, had a “teaching” kitchen built-in. Michelin star chef Jarad Gallagher from French restaurant Chez TJ presented a cooking demonstration on one of the courses on the menu: Guinea Fowl Truffle to visually further whet the guests’ appetite, if that’s even possible. At the very least, watching a master at work is taking “a feast for the eyes” on a different level.

Everything was delicious.  Coming from an active morning of mushroom foraging in the forest surely heightened the appreciation of the already wonderful meal. The lunch concluded with a few words from Chef Ken Frank of La Toque Restaurant and Robert Chang.



Cooking demonstration by Michelin star chef Jarad Gallagher at HALL Winery

Cooking demonstration by Michelin star chef Jarad Gallagher at HALL Winery


HALL WINERY Truffle Lunch


Michelin Star Guest Chef Jarad Gallagher of Chez TJ, Mountain View, Ca


Black Truffle Arancini, Bloomsdale Spinach

2012 HALL T Bar T Ranch Sauvignon Blanc


Tongue and Beet Salad Truffle, Garden Greens, Powdered Japanese Wagyu Beef

2011 WALT Blue Jay Pinot Noir


Grimaud Farms Guinea Fowl Truffle, Mustards, Celery

2010 HALL Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


Truffle Chocolate Baklava

2010 HALL Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon


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