International Truffle Festival, Alba, Italy

One doesn’t need to linger long at this site to know that Mrs. NH and I have acquired a real taste for truffles while living over here in the old country.  Of course, while many of my readers see this as just another example that NH has gone all high-falutin’ euro-style, I see it as more of a matter of supply and demand.  You see, over here, they charge a premium for crappy tacos.  Brisket?  Can’t buy it.  Cheeseburger?  $15.  Oreos?  No way, José.

But truffles are relatively plentiful in some of the places we frequent.  For example, you can’t go to a restaurant in Istria without finding several truffle dishes on the menu.  So, since eating locally is in fashion these days, we’ve worked the truffle into our home menu.  We have a cabinet full of them, to be exact.  We’re truffle hoarders.

Interestingly, that came in handy last month while we were in Piedmont at the exact same day that they were having the International Truffle Festival in the quaint, rustic town of Alba – in the heart of the Italian Truffle basket.  The fact that our cupboards are already full of truffles meant that we didn’t have to fork out any dough other than the 2 Euros for entry and a few more Euros for wine tastings.  But we got to witness some of the biggest and most beautiful truffles in the world in a unique, “how did this become my life” setting.

Up until my recent trip to Moscow, this was the most fun I had ever had at a trade show.  Truffles were the main attraction to be sure but another 50% of the show was devoted to regional wines, pasta, meat, cheeses and desserts.  The best part, they were giving out samples.  Truffle cheeses, goat cheeses, truffle sausage, chocolate truffles, wines and even some cheeses that looked like things that had been scraped of the bottom of my shoe.  I tried ’em all.

Then, there were the people.  Let’s not forget, these people are Italians.  They take their food and drink very seriously.  They’re also quite engaging after you ask them a few cursory questions about their product.  Americans seemed in short supply at this show and being one might have actually helped us score an extra nibble of sausage or a little taller pour of wine.  (The myth of Americans being hated in Europe is happily just that, a myth.)  I picked up some of the best Barolo’s and Nebbiolo’s I’ve tasted for a hair over $10 a bottle.  Italian’s know how to do wine.  They make sure it’s all very good.  Then they charge a reasonable price and make their money that way.  By selling all of it.  If it is exceptional wine, they charge a little more, but generally in this part of Italy, wine snobs are the exception to the rule.  With two college education funds to contribute to, I’m thankful for that!

If you’ve ever entertained the slightest thought of visiting this festival – do it.  If you’ve entertained the thought of visiting Piedmont but aren’t a hard-core truffle head, plan your visit around the time of this culinary trade show and you will be a convert before you drive out of town.  It’s a real European curiosity and a particularly awesome part of Europe.

Cafe Savoy – Prague

Last week there was a midweek Czech holiday and the Mrs., Little NH and I decided to make a brunch/lunch of it at Prague’s Cafe Savoy.  If you’ve never been, Savoy is worth a visit.  It hardly feels like you’re in Prague.  It feels more like Paris or Vienna.  The service is great, the food is very refined and the atmosphere laid back yet, neat as a pin.  The cafe itself seems to have a sense of sophistication that manages to avoid out-and-out snobbery.  It turned out to be the perfect setting for an early afternoon epicurean adventure.

Pea SoupMrs. NH started out with the Fresh Pea Soup.  I had tasted hers the last time we ate there and I recalled being pretty impressed.  It was just as good this time.  Little dollops of mashed potatoes arrive in the bowl and the creamy, bright green soup was poured in afterward.  Fresh and tasty.

I decided to go a little heavier with my starter.  The Escargots à la Bourguignonne was my selection and provided excellent flavor and brunch conversation with my 2-year-old.

“What’s that daddy?” she asked.
“Oooh, yum!”
“Want some?” I queried.
“Uh, no thanks.  I’m eating French fries right now.”

EscargotAnd that was that.  But I can’t blame her too much.  The fries were good.  Shoestring, golden and really crispy with just the right touch of greasiness to add a layer of decadence.  But back to the Escargots – I was amazed how good they were.  They were as good as any I’ve had anywhere – including France.  This fact just helped to add a layer of authenticity and otherworldliness to Savoy.

Next, there was the main course.  Mrs. NH decided to treat this as more of a brunch with a Mimosa and a Savoy Omlette with Gruyére.  It was one of the prettier omlettes I have ever seen.  The eggs were bright yellow and contrasted nicely with delicately dressed pile of greens on the side.  It was rich and full of flavor.

OmletteAgain, I decide eschew any brunch protocol and go in heavy with my main course.  I ordered up a dark, heady Kozel beer with a rustic Veal entrecôte á la Périgourdine which included truffle sauce and fresh spinach leaves on butter.  I told you I went in heavy.  It was a rich, bold, yet balanced meal that was the perfect complement to a cool fall day.  It certainly made the outing feel like a special occasion and gave me the same sort of pleasant lethargy that I used to get at Sunday brunch at the country club after church.

Truffle VealWe took our time through the meal and the attentive but not overbearing service was perfect.  I was a little worried when the bill came that all of this pleasure might come at a very high cost.  My fears were unfounded, however.  When I looked at the bill, it seemed just about right.  Not to mention, with all of the money we had saved in not actually driving to France for lunch, we’ll certainly be back to do it again.

Truffle Linguine

We had a friend stay for dinner last night and decided to put some more truffles to use.  This time, we whipped out the hand-crank pasta maker and made some fresh linguine.  Of course, man cannot live by pasta alone so we did starters of prosciutto wrapped bread sticks dipped in truffle oil and foie gras on wheat toast with a balsamic-honey reduction.  I got some great shots of the production phase but by the time the meal hit the plate the time for photography was long past.  Having a lightly chilled Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico waiting to pour and a steaming plate of fresh linguine with truffle cream sauce proved too much to withstand for this blogger and the results are only a tasty memory.

It was an incredible meal spent with a great friend.  It’s actually fun to have someone else there to confirm our brilliance in the kitchen for a change!