It can be hard to describe the aroma of a truffle. The title of this post was courtesy of someone trying to come to term with truffles at last weekend’s truffle talk and lunch at the Kitchen Cabinet (Old Parliament House). Once again we had gathered to hear from a local producer, Sherry MacArdle-English who grows of one of the world’s gourmet delicacies, that most exclusive of mushrooms, the European Black Truffle (Tuber melanosporum). It turns out there are also Australian native truffles that grow on the root systems of gum trees. However it is suggested that unless you are a bandicoot you should probably not try to eat them.
Sherry and her husband farm truffles on the slopes of Mt Majura. The truffles, a type of fungus, grow on the roots of oak trees. The trees are inoculated with the spores of the truffle when they are still tube stock. The property currently has some two and a half thousand oak trees growing and an additional 80 hazelnut trees as a trial plot. Don’t get too excited because it turns out that not every tree produces every year and truffles are very fussy about their growing conditions. I think we were all pretty bowled over by Sherry’s description of the amount of preparation, not to mention the expense that has to be committed to develop a project like theirs. Thankfully their preparation has stood them in good stead as their trees started producing truffles in year three of their operation. This is much earlier than other growers have been able to achieve.
Back to the aroma. Truffles are all about aroma and should be thought of as a food enhancer – like garlic – rather than a meal in themselves. As a teaser for the lunch to come a container of truffles was taken around the dining room to allow everyone to smell this most amazing fungi.
Even if you could afford them, you couldn’t actually eat a meal solely of truffles, unless you want to be very sick.
Sherry suggested that if you haven’t met a truffle before that you take a sniff of one, them a short time later you have another smell before making your mind up. Apparently as adults we are somewhat inclined to reject unfamiliar smells such as that of the truffle so giving yourself a second smell allows your brain a better chance of assimilating and categorising the product. Of course you may just think that they smell really bad and you won’t go near them again.
Chef Janet Jeffs also sent out a small cup of truffle infused chicken stock to help ‘warm-up’ peoples palates for the lunch to come.
The truffles are located in the ground with the aid of sniffer dogs, in Sherry’s case her American Cocker Spaniel, Snuffles. Sherry rejected using pigs, having seen in France the hand of one too many growers missing part of their fingers, a result of having lost the fight to get the truffle away from their pigs. Dogs, unlike pigs, do not consider truffles to be edible.
Lunch consisted of a Truffle boudin blanc (chicken sausage) with truffled mash potatoes and steamed greens. If the boudin blanc tasted deliciously familiar it was. The sausages were made by Robert Campbell of Ted’s Butchery in Milton. Robert used to make sausages for Select Meats when that shop was in the City Markets. Looks like we now have another detour on the way back from Sydney!
The main was followed by Truffled Petite Vache brie with crackers and fruit.The brie was sliced in half then slivers of truffle were placed in the middle of the cheese. The cheese was then left to absorb the flavours of the truffle. The crackers were really good, but for me the pear poached in vanilla which accompanied the brie was really superb.
While this is all very nice for restaurant food, if you want to try truffles at home I think the best and about the easiest thing to do is make scrambled eggs with them. This is a classic way to serve truffles and with good reason. Firstly place your eggs in a sealed glass jar along with your truffle and leave them closed up for a minimum of 24 hours. Sherry says they are much better if you can hold out for 48 hours. Take your eggs out of the jar. The aroma of the truffle will have completely spread through the eggs’ permeable shells. Cook your eggs as you prefer them and then shave very fine slices of truffle on the top of the eggs when you serve them.
Sherry also suggested that you try storing rice with your truffle and then use the rice make a risotto. There are also some very simple but tasty Italian pasta dishes that use truffle, although they would traditionally be using the Italian White truffle rather than the French Black truffle.
To keep truffles at home they need to be stored in a sealed glass jar on a piece of paper towel as the truffles will ‘sweat’. The paper towel should be changed every day. The truffles will only last a maximum of 12 days, similar to your everyday mushie. The good news, you can add sliced truffles to infuse some olive oil, but again this will only keep for up to 3 weeks in the fridge. The bad news – your expensive truffle oil you bought in the shops isn’t. It’s just oil with a bit of rejected undersized poor quality truffle shoved in the bottom for effect, with artificial truffle flavour added to the oil.
Alright the elephant in this truffle-infused room is the price. Currently in Canberra you can buy this seasons truffles for about $3 per gram. Yes. A minimum of 5gms or up to 10gms of truffle, if you are feeling generous or wealthy or both, is the suggested amount to allow per person for cooking. Be aware that truffles are also graded A, B, C based on density, colour and aroma so you should expect to pay more for the higher grade product. Truffles can be bought at the Northside Farmer’s Market and also at the Kitchen Cabinet at Old Parliament House (probably also at other places that I haven’t come across as yet).
I’d honestly encourage you to try truffles – they are a seasonal delicacy – so at least you are not going to be eating them year round. They do grow locally (in Canberra that is). They are a truly wonderful indulgence and worth trying, hopefully more than once in this life!