THE SALT SHELF VISIT: Observe any person who claims to be a devotee to the pleasures of the palate enter a specialty foods store and you'll see someone who makes a beeline for a particular bite as soon as they stroll in the front door. Those with a sweet tooth might make for the lavender or honey chews, the cheese lovers might seek out the logs of goat-y goodness in the refrigerated section, and the people into flavored syrups will be found crouched down over in the bottle section. But truffle-ists? They deserve they're own special mention, because a specialty store visit immediately tests their mettle. Do they seek out the whole or sliced truffles, the ones weighed by the ounce and often priced like gold (or seemingly)? Do they sniff out the truffle-flecked cheeses, and dare ask the cheese monger for the smallest of samples? Or is it all about the shelf with the truffle salt, that one dish topper that can bring most any past to exuberant new heights? Oh, decisions and so forth. Lovers of the truf can take a break from their store-based indecision, though, over the middle weekend of January, and make for Napa Valley, where the truffle shall be celebrated in myriad ways.
JAN. 15-18, 2016... are the coming-up dates of the Napa Valley Truffle Festival, a piquant party that'll put the focus on "the black Perigold truffle and the black summer Burgundy truffle through a variety of cooking classes, demonstrations, and truffle cultivation seminars, culminating in a multi-course truffle banquet with each course prepared by a celebrated chef. Also in the house? "Top truffle scientists," experts who will plumb into all of the plummy topics surrounding the "principles of truffle cultivation." The Westin Verasa Hotel is "truffle central" for the fragrant, flavorful event, and you're bound to achieve that knobby-love, higher-palate level that all truffle fans desire. Sometimes a trip to the truffle salt shelf in your favorite specialty shop just stokes those desires for immersing yourself more fully into a truffleverse -- like a universe, but with truffles -- for a weekend. That weekend is coming up, in Napa Valley, so hang tight and keep your sniffer ready to sniff out all of those amazing truffle-forward scents.