Truffle Hunting – From Paddock to Plate

Jun 17, 2014


The word truffle has always conjured up images for me of the French country side and expensive Michelin starred restaurants. At approximately $2000 per kilogram, it was not an ingredient that I thought was in my budget or within my geographic vicinity. However ahead of the annual winter Canberra & Capital Region Truffle Festival, my first experience with the much prized and adored fungi suddenly became within reach.

On the weekend, I was invited by one of my new found clever human brochure friends & fellow blogger Lessons in Laughter, to attend a most unique foodie event - a truffle hunt and cooking tour right in the heart of Canberra, no passport required.

Originally from the south of France, truffles are ideally suited to the temperatures in Canberra. The extreme heat in the summer, coupled with our cold frosty winters and dry days, make it an ideal breeding ground. With research, careful selection of a location, quality tree stock, and good soil management, the lush rolling hills of French Black Truffles Estate of Canberra at Mt Majura is at the forefront of an emerging truffle industry in the capital.

I never imagined that located fifteen minutes from my inner city high density apartment, I would find a truffiere. The Estate is a family business; it began as a wonderful journey of interest and excitement for the founders, with the planting of the first trees in 2004. The farm has now turned into a commercial operation employing the team at Truffle Dogs to hunt and harvest the little nuggets of black gold.

Our tour group of ten entered the truffiere, disinfecting our shoes so as not to contaminate the soil and met the brains and the noses behind Truffle Dogs before embarking on our hunt. Jayson the brains, had previously worked for 12 years as a canine handler and instructor for Australia’s premier law enforcement agencies. With his experience, Jayson takes a professional approach in training his exceptional team of dogs to hunt for ripe truffles.
 

Samson one of the highly trained noses led the hunt. He is an energetic and eager to please seven year old black Labrador and has been finding truffles since he was six months old. Having worked all over Australia, Samson is worth his weight in truffles, a true legend in the industry with Jayson being offered a cool €60,000 for him on several occasions. Samson proved to be a true professional on our hunt quickly picking up a scent. Following his nose with purpose to the base of a tree, Samson starts digging to show Jayson the “spot”.





 

I was surprised how close to the surface the truffle appears to be as only a small gardening tool was required to carefully dig, scrape and brush the dirt around the truffle, before it was successfully unearthed. The chance to then touch, smell and photograph the freshly dug truffle was quite an unexpected thrill for me. For an ingredient that was so unfamiliar to me, I was wildly excited about holding and smelling it.

It was three from three successful finds and digs for Samson, on our hour long hunt yielding much excitement and delight for our tour group and some sausage treats for our trusty nose.

Truffles in hand, we were ready to cook and taste our findings. Andrew from 3Seeds cooking school had prepped one of the Estate’s converted sheds as our rustic lunch setting. Over the hour long demonstration, he shared his philosophy on cooking with truffles. Believing in removing the mystique and fear surrounding truffles, Andrew encouraged us as home cooks to make the most of any purchased truffles by infusing, marinating and layering truffle flavours throughout the meal and not just using shavings of truffle as a garnish on top of dishes.
Our tasting plates were cleverly created layered dishes including truffle eggs, where the raw eggs had been left to infuse in the fridge with a truffle for a few days, then cooked with truffle butter and truffle cream. Followed by Chicken stuffed with truffle brie, served with a truffle cream sauce, then a rich and velvety truffle duck confit and to finish off even our dessert contained truffle in the form of chocolate ganache “truffle truffle”.

 
All of a sudden the truffle seemed accessible to me and I felt less intimidated by the prospect of cooking or ordering dishes with truffles, lucky for me launching on Saturday the 21st of June, is the 8 week celebration of Canberra & the Capital Regions Black Perigord Truffle Festival! With over 45 local vendors offering the opportunity to taste and experience truffles with events ranging from gourmet degustation dinners, café style dishes, pastries, cooking classes and demonstrations, farmers markets, and truffle hunts I will have opportunity a plenty to share my new found affection of truffles with my family.
First on the list is a family truffle hunt. A truly fun paddock to plate experience right in the heart of our city, which I would love to share with Tweeny and the husband.