Thanks to BlackBeard’s, October has become the month for white truffles here in the Cayman Islands as it teamed up with the Italian winery Batasiolo to present the fourth annual Truffle Dinner on 19 October at Agua Restaurant.
In the Piemonte region of northern Italy, the months of October and November are the time of white truffles, the edible subterranean fungus that is a prized culinary ingredient for its pungent aroma and taste.
In the autumn of 2009, BlackBeard’s Beers, Wines and Spirits decided to make October or November truffle time in Cayman as well by bringing in some of the mushroom-like delicacies directly from Alba, Italy, where they are grown.
BlackBeard’s decided to host a truffle dinner at a different restaurant each year, starting with the Cracked Conch in 2009, moving to Luca in 2010 and then to Ristorante Pappagallo in 2011. This year, one of the most anticipated annual events on Cayman’s culinary calendar moved to Agua Restaurant.
However, fine dining should go with fine wine, and the best wines to go with truffles from Piemonte are wines from the same region. So BlackBeard’s partnered with Beni Di Batasiolo, a winery in La Morra in the heart of Barolo country that produces all of the wines the Piemonte region is known for.
With white truffles and good wine supplied by the BlackBeard’s team, Agua’s team of chefs produced a five-course menu that could have been mistaken for one served in Alba, if only the tuna in the tartare wasn’t so fresh.
The welcome reception, as is appropriate for a culinary celebration surrounding the arrival of fresh white truffles from so far away, started with bubbles. But in keeping with the Piemonte theme, these bubbles came in the form of Batasiolo Metodo Classico Millesimé 2006, a spumante – or sparkling wine – made in the classic way of Champagne, with secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle. This blend of 75 per cent Chardonnay and 25 per cent Pinot Noir was a delightful accompaniment to passed Italian-style canapés.
After guests were seated, BlackBeard’s Wine Sales Manager Jodie Petts welcomed everybody and introduced Ricardo March, Batasiolo’s United States and Canada director.
March gave apologies for Batasiolo’s owner Fiorenzo Dogliani, who in past years has travelled to Cayman to attend the truffle dinner, but this year could not make it.
March said that a kilo of white truffles had just been harvested in Alba and brought to Cayman the day before.
“For some reason, I feel like a truffle dealer,” he said with a laugh, noting that it wasn’t a good truffle season this year and that it was therefore very difficult to find truffles right now.
He explained that white truffles only have a life span of 10 days, so the timing for finding truffles to bring to Cayman had to be just right.
March noted that as hard as it was to get the truffles to Cayman, it was going to be worth the effort.
“There’s nothing better than good wine, good friends and wonderful food,” he said.
For the first course, Agua served fresh tuna tartare layered with foie gras and thinly shaved white truffle along with 2009 Batasiolo Langhe Morino Vineyard Chardonnay. The combination of flavours and texture in the dish was sublime.
Flavio Andreatta, the area manager for the Caribbean for GioWine, the company that distributes Batasiolo in the region, commented on how some people don’t associate Italy with Chardonnay wines, even though some very good ones are produced there.
This particular Chardonnay is oak barrel fermented and then aged another six months in oak. The result is wine that falls in between French Burgundy and heavily-oaked Napa Valley Chardonnays.
“This is a good balance between the Old World and the New World with the elegance of Piemonte,” Andreatta said.
Although the trend these days is to make unoaked Chardonnays, March said that when truffles are involved, you need oakiness if the dish is being served with white wine.
“You have to have oak,” he said. “Without it, the truffles would overpower any white wine.”
The death of truffles
After a tart palate cleansing sorbet, dinner turned to Piemonte’s iconic red wines, starting with 2007 Barbaresco DOCG, a wine made in the same manner and with the same grape – Nebbiolo – as Barolo. But the Nebbiolo grapes in Barbaresco are grown in the next valley over from Barolo, and the difference in the terrior – which is a word that encompasses soil, climate and sun-angle conditions – makes a big difference in taste. While Barolo is known as the king of Piemonte wines for its powerfully sharp tannins, Barbaresco is the Queen, with softer tannins that are more approachable on the palate when the wine is younger.
Because its tannins were softer, the Barbaresco paired well with the next course, a poached egg over Parmesan fondue and crispy puffed pastry, topped with white truffle and served along with green asparagus spears.
The dish seemed like an odd combination, but March said the most traditional way of eating truffles was actually with eggs. He explained that truffles are hunted in the early morning when their scent is strongest, making it easier for the truffle sniffing pigs or dogs to find. When the successful truffle hunters return home, they make eggs – often poached – and shave the freshly harvested truffles over them.
Agua owner Walter Fajette said there is an Italian saying that boasts that eggs are “the death of truffles”. Although the real meaning of the saying is lost in translation from Italian to English, the gist is that there is nothing better with truffles than eggs.
Pasta, veal and Barolo
The next course served was tagliolini pasta tossed with white truffle butter and topped with shaved white truffles and Parmesan cheese. On the plate, it looked like an extraordinarily simple pasta dish. In the mouth, it was nothing short of extraordinary.
It was served with 2007 Batasiolo Barolo DOCG, a youthful wine that showed the sometimes shy fruitiness of the Nebbiolo grape well.
The final savory course paired veal tenderloin, veal jus, wild mushrooms, Fontina foam, parsnip puree and white truffles with 1996 Batasiolo La Corda della Briccolina Vineyard Barolo. This maturing Barolo still had great structure at 16 years old and probably still hasn’t reached its peak yet. But it was still fabulous, especially with the veal-truffle combination that was, as one guest put it, “possibly the best-tasting thing I have ever put in my mouth”.
Dessert was panna cotta and Anjou pear sorbet, served with the effervescent Batasiolo Moscato, a slightly sweet, low alcohol wine that was a refreshing end to the planned meal. But just in case everyone hadn’t had enough truffles for the evening, Agua served an unexpected treat, Pecorino cheese infused with black and white truffles, an amazing end to an amazing meal.