There are beer and wine festivals. There are Renaissance festivals. But truffle festivals? Those are a bit more rare in the United States and can be as tough to track down as the famous fungus itself.
Not familiar with these culinary delights? Jean Brillat-Savarin, a renowned French gastronome, once described them as “the diamond of the kitchen.” Essentially mushrooms that grow underground, truffles are considered one of the finest delicacies in the world, with more obscure varieties selling for thousands of dollars. In 2008, casino tycoon Stanley Ho purchased a white truffle from Tuscany for $330,000 at an annual auction in Hong Kong.
But not all truffles come with six-figure price tags. While “hunters” continue to search for them in the wild with specially trained dogs, and sometimes pigs as well, modern cultivation practices and truffle-growing operations have made the once difficult-to-find treats more commonplace in America’s kitchens. Still, they tend to be pricey and are often used sparingly in pastas, salads and meat dishes.
Now that you know a bit more about truffles, you’re ready to make use of your knowledge at two of the country’s best truffle fests, both of which are coming up this January.
Napa Truffle Festival, Jan. 15-18
The American Truffle Company returns to Napa with the sixth annual Napa Truffle Festival – bringing together two complementary aspects of European truffles: the best chefs in the world known for their truffle cuisine, and the best truffle experts/scientists in the world recognized for their expertise and data on truffle cultivation. Gourmands and aspiring truffle growers alike will find a bounty of activities throughout the festival weekend to satisfy their appetite and curiosity for the flavor and knowledge of one of the world’s most prized and delectable foods.
Recognized around the world as a wine and culinary Mecca, Napa Valley will again serve as the host for the festival weekend. Unique to this Festival is the festivals Master Chef team led by Michelin star chef Ken Frank of La Toque, presenting culinary demonstrations, and showcasing their extraordinary skills and talents in a tour de force Truffles & Wine Dinner on Saturday evening.
Leading the scientific track will be American Truffle Company cultivation expert Robert Chang and mycorrhizal expert/scientist Dr. Paul Thomas. Other special guests include Certified Professional Dog Trainer Alana McGee, wild mushroom forager/mycologist David Campbell, the team at Robert Sinskey Vineyards Truffle Orchard and, everyone’s favorite, Rico and Lolo the truffle dogs.
The Festival concludes on Monday with a lively Napa Truffle Festival Marketplace —from farm, orchard and vineyard to kitchen, table and glass—showcasing local artisan vendors and their specialty food products, plus cooking demos, fresh truffles for sale and a chance to win a real black truffle. The Marketplace is free to the public to browse and purchase truffle menu items à la carte.
Oregon Truffle Festival, Jan. 22-24
The Oregon Truffle Festival—now in it’s 11th year—may not have the same cache as the Napa festival to the south, but is superior in many ways. Oregon has been the leading voice for this burgeoning industry in the U.S., and their culinary festival sells out its popular dinners and tasting events year after year. From James Beard award winning chefs to truffle industry experts to food journalists and food enthusiasts, many renowned culinary figures participate in the Oregon Truffle Festival—the states foremost wintertime culinary event—every year.
As the first truffle festival in the English-speaking world, and “one of the top 5 destinations in the world for truffle lovers,” the Oregon Truffle Festival offers a unique culinary experience that joins truffle fanciers and experts from all over the world with educational seminars, hands-on experiences and, of course, tastings.
While Napa and Sonoma are starting to garner more attention for their truffle bounty—including truffle “orchards,” which, according to insiders, could begin to bear results this winter—Oregon has a longer lineage in the rarefied world of truffles. Oregon is blessed with an abundance of wild truffles with culinary qualities equal to those of Europe due to a near perfect climate for cultivation of the renowned French (white) truffles. The more intensely flavored white truffles, one of the most prized and rare cooking ingredients in the world, are not always easily excavated, but grow wild in abundance in Oregon—making the hunt and eventual find only that much more satisfying.
[White truffles covered in dirt]