Here’s a delicious culinary riddle: How do you make local cheese from fresh summer milk infused with fresh black winter truffle, and age it in time to melt onto a grass-fed beef burger in the fall? And yes, I mean the robust, pungent European native tuber melanosporum, not the lighter and more delicate tuber aestivum, which is the black summer truffle.
And here’s another: How do you (by which I mean me) get to eat truffles and still have lunch money for the rest of the week?
Kyle Koenig knows, and he’s gone and done it. He’s the chef de cuisine at Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton, which is operated by celeb chef Tom Colicchio. Like most chefs, Koenig loves shaving truffles onto anything possible, even though truffles are one of the most expensive delicacies in the world, going for up to $1,000 a pound. But to get to the heart of the truffle, which looks like a lumpy, dark Hacky Sack, you have to peel off a bit of the rough exterior first, and those scraps are too precious to toss.
“The idea sparked early last year,” says Koenig. “I had all these little truffle scraps, and I was putting them into pasta, under chicken skin, making truffle butter. I was thinking: what else could I do with it? And I thought — cheese! So I contacted the guys at Mecox to see if it was even possible, and they thought it would be a cool way to custom make a cheese. They were super into it, actually.”
So Koenig finely minced a half pound of truffle peelings, and he and two of his cooks took them over to Mecox Bay Dairy in Watermill, where they make a range of artisanal cheeses from the milk of their Jersey cows. “We went there really early in the morning, when we knew they would be making the brie-style cheese, the Atlantic Mist,” he says. “We just kind of jumped in; after they cut the curd for the brie, we folded in half the truffle. It was like, let’s just see what we get.”
The other half went into a Swiss-style cheese, called Sigit. The brie cheese was aged at Mecox, and then finished aging in the walk-in at Topping Rose. It was perfectly timed for the fall burgers, Koenig says. When the brie runs out, which will be very soon, the truffle Sigit will be just about ready to make its debut.
The burger itself is built with grass-fed beef from New York butcher DeBragga, which does a custom blend for Colicchio. It’s on a house-baked bun, and dressed with onion jam made of cipollini onions from Balsam Farms in Amagansett and a tomato aioli with fresh tomatoes from the restaurant garden, spiked with a little fish sauce. It’s juicy and delicious, in a run-down-your-arm kind of way. And, given the truffle content, it’s a totally reasonable price at $30 on the weekend brunch menu.
“It’s a local version of the TC Burger from Colicchio & Sons,” Koenig says.”The truffle cheese really complements it. It’s definitely funk-forward and finishes with a lot of umami.” As for the seasonal mystery, the black winter truffles in the Topping House/Mecox cheeses are from Australia, so they were harvested in our early summer, at the opposite time of the year from the European truffle harvest. Apparently, it took years for the Aussies to figure out how to get those fussy truffles to transplant to their hemisphere, involving importing French oak trees inoculated with the truffle mycorrhiza, but they now have their own winter black truffle harvest. The precious blobs are flown directly to New York City and whisked off to the best restaurants. It’s OK, you’re allowed to eat imported, high-carbon-footprint when it comes to truffles. I’m just happy I can get a truffle fix on a local burger at a decent price.