EATERS DIGEST: Fresh truffle bonanza, Dungeness delayed again and Mutari’s holiday cameo

Fresh black and white truffles from Alba, Italy, at Far West Fungi in Santa Cruz.
Fresh black and white truffles from Alba, Italy, at Far West Fungi in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In this week’s Eaters Digest, Lily Belli reveals where to find and what to do with fresh black and white truffles, Mutari Craft Chocolate opens its online store and another delay for Dungeness crab lovers.

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Lily

It feels like winter, and seasonal goodies are popping up everywhere you look. Citrus is finally in season and I’ve been stocking up on firm fuyu persimmons every chance I get, but there are other festive treats I want to draw your attention to this week.

First, truffles — one of the most luxurious autumn and winter delights — are in season. I’ve spotted fresh truffles as a supplement on a few local menus, but you can get more for less (OK, it’s still very expensive) by purchasing your own at Far West Fungi to prepare at home.

Alas, it looks like locally caught Dungeness crab is off the menu for the holidays, as the season has been delayed until New Year’s to protect migrating whales. Thankfully, we can drown our sorrows in Mutari chocolate — the craft chocolate-maker is making a reappearance for the holidays and opening its online ordering system.

Plus, the Aptos Wine Wander and Mini Fungus Fair return this Saturday.

News

Well, it looks like we won’t be enjoying local Dungeness crab until 2023. The existing closures for commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fishing off of Central and Southern California will remain in effect at least through Dec. 30 in order to protect migrating humpback whales from becoming entangled in the fishing gear, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Wednesday. The vertical fishing lines used to catch California’s favorite crustaceans pose a significant risk of entanglement for the whales, and can wrap around their mouths, flukes or pectoral fins. For the past few years, crab season has faced significant delays until the whales have all safely passed to their winter calving and breeding grounds off of Mexico. The next assessment to determine the risk of whale entanglement is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Mutari Craft Chocolate makes beautiful chocolate truffles with local seasonal flavors.
Mutari Craft Chocolate makes beautiful chocolate truffles with local seasonal flavors.
(Via Mutari Chocolate)

Missing Mutari Craft Chocolate since the shop on Front Street in Santa Cruz closed in February? I have good news: Mutari is taking online orders for the holiday season with nationwide shipping and local delivery. The menu includes the luscious bean-to-bar single-origin chocolate, the craft hot chocolate bottles, the award-winning Douglas fir caramels, dark chocolate peppermint bark (my personal fave!) and a collection of dairy-free truffles and pantry items for baking at home.

There’s no word on a new storefront yet, says co-owner Katy Oursler. “But we are excited to offer our craft chocolate to tide folks over until we do.” Browse the online store at mutarichocolate.com, and place orders by Dec. 18 for nationwide shipping.

Eat this

Far West Fungi's downtown Santa Cruz shop specializes in culinary and medicinal mushrooms.
Far West Fungi’s downtown Santa Cruz shop specializes in culinary and medicinal mushrooms.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

If you feel like spoiling yourself over the holidays, one of the most luxurious foods is currently in season — truffles. While I’ve seen truffle additions pop up briefly on menus at local restaurants such as Mentone in Aptos and Tramonti in Santa Cruz, you can also purchase these homely yet exquisitely aromatic little jewels at Far West Fungi in downtown Santa Cruz. The mushroom-focused retail store has both black and white truffles imported from Alba, Italy, and peak season to enjoy them is mid-October through New Year’s Eve.

Dark, medium-sized black truffles are $75 an ounce and have a subtle earthy, chocolatey aroma. The highly sought-after smaller, pale white truffles smell intensely of parmesan and garlic, and, at $265.75 an ounce, are considerably more. “They’re incredibly special,” says Naomi Wolf, the retail manager at Far West Fungi’s Santa Cruz and San Francisco stores.

The high price, she explains, is determined by the truffle exporters in France and Italy. There, the mushrooms grow underground and are found by specially trained truffle-hunting dogs. Once they’re drawn from the earth, they are quickly sold to exporters and flown overnight from Europe to New York, from where they’re distributed around the country.

If you decide to splurge, Wolf recommends a simple preparation where the truffle is the star, like a pasta, risotto or omelet. “Something with neutral flavors where the truffle can shine is best,” says Wolf. “Shave it very thin over the dish and use the heat of the food to activate its aromatic compounds, and finish it with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and cracked pepper.”

Far West Fungi also stocks Himalayan, Burgundy, winter black and winter white truffles throughout the year as they come into season, and occasionally truffles indigenous to the United States, although these varieties aren’t as prized as black and white truffles. If you want to experience the beauty of truffles without breaking the bank, Far West Fungi also stocks a selection of truffle-infused salts and oils. More info at farwestfungi.com.

Events

While the larger fungus fair is temporarily on hiatus, the Mini Fungus Fair returns to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Explore the fascinating world of mushrooms through family-friendly activities, bring your foraged mushrooms (here’s an ethical guide to collecting) to the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz’s mushroom-identification station, discover local lichens with the California Lichen Society, browse mushroom-themed art and products and enjoy fungus-forward food from pop-up Areperia 831. This event is free and includes free admission to the museum all day. More information at santacruzmuseum.org.

The Aptos Wine Wander returns to the Aptos Village this Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Fifteen Santa Cruz Mountain wineries are paired with a dozen local businesses to showcase some of their best wines for an afternoon of tasting. Some of these wineries are small and are rarely open to the public, so aside from being a fun way to spend the afternoon, it’s also a great way to see what these micro-vintners are all about. This event is put on by local organization Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains and tickets are $45 via Eventbrite for unlimited tasting.