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With Appennino Food, a whole truffle-based menu: the vertical by the Cerea brothers

Alessandra Meldolesi
copertina verticale tartufo da vittorio

Appennino Food Group orchestrates an exciting journey into the Italian undergrowth with the cuisine of the Cerea brothers. "For us, truffle is year-round, even though it sells better now. But when Luigi Dattilo lets us try a different variety, Da Vittorio is always a discovery."

La "Truffle vertical" by Appannino Food Group at Da Vittorio

Truffle, as you know, doesn't age: it's not a cured meat to be stored in the cellar but is eaten fresh, albeit not unripe. So what does "truffle vertical" mean? It's not, as in wine, a temporal plunge to measure any tertiary developments; instead, it's descending into the undergrowth at increasing depths, where different types are found. Lastly, the white truffle, which can be dug up to a meter deep. December is the only month when all five main types are simultaneously present, with the white truffle currently at its peak, considering the season's delay, and the black truffle starting to emerge.

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There's the rare macrosporum truffle, black with reddish hues, less commercialized due to its small size but remarkable for its distinctive peppery aroma. There's the distinctly nutty uncinato, and there's the pregiato black truffle, which can have notes of brandy and bitter chocolate. Surprisingly, they all share the same molecule as the white truffle, the famous bis(methylthio)methane, associated with different bouquets and textures.

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For the third year, Appennino Food asked Chicco and Bobo Cerea to interpret its precious hypogeous mushrooms, this time for a mixed audience of fellow chefs and journalists, who found an assortment under a cloche on the table, along with a slicing tool. The result was extraordinary: a roguish classicism, creatively serving the most elusive of fetishes. Because genius is in the nostrils, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote.

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The work followed well-established patterns, producing an almost musical outcome. Like a series of virtuosic variations on the theme of truffle/dairy or truffle/umami-animal, recurring yet always different and compelling against a subtly hinted background of sweetness. Consistency, not repetition, because playing effectively with the known can be more challenging than venturing into the unknown, where one is surprised with certainty. And with a lightness equal to rose petals, it tickled the palate amid the choreography of the Da Vittorio show, which has always been a hallmark.

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"On October 1st, we start every year with the truffle menu, coinciding with the beginning of the white truffle harvest; then we also use the prized black truffle. But many dishes were created specifically for the event, in the enthusiasm of comparing ourselves with our colleagues," says Bobo Cerea. "We chose the type according to the recipe: the white and the prized, with their intense sensations, pair well with more structured dishes. The white is always used sliced, while the black depends. If it's meant to be eaten with fingers, grating can be more ergonomic; also, when heated in hazelnut butter, it fully releases its earthy and hazelnut notes. And it can also be used in stuffings. In the restaurant, we are using various varieties, including a sweet white from the East that tastes like honey. It impressed us a lot, and we will use it again because we like to introduce new products, and we are always curious to try them. It's not easy for various reasons to convey to guests the idea of truffle throughout the year; in fact, the major sales are in season. But when Luigi Dattilo lets us taste something new, every time it's a discovery."

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To start, the appetizers: the fake chestnut foie gras and the mini hamburger with white truffle; the tartlet with financier and brumale mornay sauce; the sea bass sashimi, celeriac, and hazelnuts with uncinato sautéed in hazelnut butter, the only fish tasting in a restaurant devoted to the sea. "But in the truffle menu now, we have a king crab with foie gras and chestnut puree that everyone loves." The veal tartare (Piedmontese Fassona fed with hazelnuts) was served on a puff pastry and caramelized onion base, with Beaufort sauce for savoriness and Marsala reduction to rebalance sweetness, plus macrosporum truffle for a spicy touch.

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Next is the white truffle with "caffellatte," now a signature: a fake roasted potato broth cappuccino, three-milk Robiola foam, and white truffle, with brioche and black cream pastry. "Because we like to pair two truffles, it becomes a unique, earthy, and almost indistinguishable flavor." Not without a tribute to Alain Chapel.

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Sumptuous following is the Parmigiano risotto with partridge (cooked Bergamo-style with ribs, bacon, sage, and foie gras, covered with foil as Grandma used to do and forgotten on the stove), jus de la presse from the carcasses, and a blanket of white truffle. Followed by the crepe with Fontina fondue and Parmigiano for a celebration of textures, revisited in an open form: it is served upside down, with garlic and sage-scented béchamel, fondue, and crispy Parmigiano for crunch. In one bite, the history of cuisine (homage to Marchesi and his open ravioli); the modulation of consumption, with the guest playing and getting messy; the immersive choreography of the dining room, in the portioning of the fondue and the fold closure.

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Cloud and uncinato truffle is a first course of classic plin ravioli, sautéed in butter and Parmigiano, on a mirepoix base of celeriac, chestnuts, and mushrooms, under a mixed blanket of Parmigiano and whey for acidity.

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Again sumptuous is the brioche roll with guinea fowl, foie gras, and pregiato black truffle, another unpublished recipe whose preparation begins the day before with the filling, wrapped in deboned meat with truffle and then in the dough. It is sliced in the dining room by the chefs and served with broccoli puree, liver cream, and carcass stock.

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For dessert, milk with brumale truffle, intermediate between uncinato and melanosporum: a spiral of milk jelly, three-milk Mascarpone ice cream, milk sponge, and crunchy milk wafer, practically single-ingredient, chosen despite the cold temperature, for the delicacy on the tuber.

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