Truffle time

Forget being close to the ski fields, what I want to be close to in a Canberra winter are our local truffle growers. Last weekend we went to the Capital Region Farmer’s Market at EPIC to buy some of those very fragrant fungi. What was also good was to see that there were two truffle vendors at the market last weekend Turalla Truffles and Terra Preta Truffles.

Finely sliced truffles ready for action
Finely sliced truffles ready for actio

We’ve been buying and eating truffles for several years now so we were quite happy to pay for our 20 grams worth from the Terra Preta stall. We paid $2.50 per gram, a slightly lower price than we’ve paid previously.

So what do you do next? To make the most of your truffles you need to focus on their aroma. Don’t try and use them straight away, you will be wasting your money. Any food item you choose to pair your truffle with needs time to absorb the truffle’s aroma. A good first step is to take your truffle, wrapped in its piece of paper towel and seal it in a glass jar with some eggs, then spend some time deciding what you will use your truffles for. You could likewise store your truffle with some rice as the base for a truffle aroma-ed risotto.

Truffle stored with eggs
Truffle stored with eggs

The truffle aroma will infuse the eggs through their shells, so leave the eggs and the truffles together at least overnight, or up to 48 hours if you can hold out that long. We usually make truffle-infused scrambled eggs our first truffle dish each year. You don’t need to put any truffle in the eggs as the eggs will have plenty of flavour already, but you can grate some truffle on top as a garnish. This way you can use your eggs and keep the truffle for another dish. This year we were able to use our own hens’ eggs to make this Sunday brunch treat.

Truffle-infused scrambled eggs
Truffle-infused scrambled eggs

I was really keen to make some truffle sausages so while we were at the markets we bought some pork shoulder from the Inglebrae stall. To try and make sure we got the best value for our truffle TB first cut the truffle very finely and then mixed it with butter. This was left to rest and infuse while TB prepared the pork meat for the sausages.

Finely chopped truffle mixed with butter
Finely chopped truffle mixed with butter

We used Matthew Evan’s recipe for the sausages. Sadly we only had 20 grams of truffle not 200 grams as Matthew used. Because we had the 2 kilos of pork we used only 200 grams of sausage mix with our truffles, then turned the remaining pork into pork and fennel sausages.

TB mixed the truffle butter into the pork mix and then left it to rest for several more hours before forming the sausages. We ended up with 8 truffle sausages from our mix.

Truffle infused butter being mixed into the pork mince
Truffle infused butter being mixed into the pork mince

We were really strong and scheduled our truffle sausage eating session for the following evenings’ meal. It was definitely worth the wait as the flavour was rounded, nicely developed and could be tasted throughout the sausage.

Truffle sausages served with our own peas and butternut pumpkin and fried onion
Truffle sausages served with our own peas and butternut pumpkin and fried onion

Now all we have to do is decide how long we will hold out eating the other truffle sausages currently stored in our freezer.

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A Good Red Wine Inside Gumboots

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.

Truffle

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.

Truffletea

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!

Truffleboudin

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.

Trufflebrie

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!

Potted plants

I’m obviously not getting out enough these days. While visiting one of the few remaining commercial nurseries in Canberra over the weekend I was somewhat surprised to see a woman leaving with a very large potted kale (Cavolo Nero) plant. Indeed it was large enough to get a good meal off and still be a decent size plant. Further exploration revealed that for $14.95 you could also purchase well established broccoli and cauliflowers in 20 cm pots. At least brassicas should be hardy enough to survive the transplant at this size if they were well looked after. It seemed odd but really this is just a step along from selling advanced tomatoes. I had assumed that this was a clever move by the smaller nursery to keep ahead of the retail giants until my friend M said she’d just purchased some advanced Cavolo Nero, not quite as big as the nursery ones (and nowhere near as expensive), in individual pots at Bunnings. What will they think of next?

Well I can tell you that too because the next thing that hove into view were a selection of black truffle-spore impregnated oak trees! Yes you too can give an unusual present to the gourmet in your life for a mere $145. The trees I saw were Holm Oak, otherwise known as Holly Oak (Quercus ilex) one of the trees traditionally used as a host to grow truffles. You can keep these in quite large containers or even as a hedge but do be warned that according to Wikipedia they can grow up to 27 metres tall, so probably not a specimen for your courtyard garden. The producers of these trees do say that it will take several years for the truffles to be produced and that you should sniff the ground around the tree in winter so you can tell whether truffles are present. Might be hard to explain that behaviour to the neighbours!

Meanwhile at Chez Fork TB has been labouring manfully to convert last years polytunnel into this years ‘glasshouse’ (polyhouse?). TB has been suffering severe glasshouse envy ever since we visited the Stirzaker’s Open Garden?? . As you can see the structure is just about there, minus the plastic sheeting. You can guess who was responsible for the colour scheme!
TB has also done further major digging for the new beds, although we are still in some discussion over the placement of paths – all in good time. I think I’m finally getting to grips with planting a sufficient quantity of plants to provide a reasonable return. I planted out 30 broad bean seeds Aqua Dolce (otherwise known as Leviathon Longpod) an heirloom variety from the 1840s.I’m hoping for a good germination rate. The broadbeans will be the first crop to go into the new beds.

PolyhouseDigging