Black Truffles = Food Porn

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There. I said it. Not so long ago even the word “pornography” was completely taboo. It was enough to make Mary Whitehouse blush and Fred Nile go cross-eyed. In our totally desensitized and morally bankrupt modern society the word is thrown around with abandon. Every moribund food blogger in the country signs off their Instagram pictures of a prosaic looking breakfast or hackneyed bowl of pasta or nachos with #foodporn and #instaporn…its as though they think we’ve never seen an omelette before! However, in this oversaturated food world we now live in, there are still a few truly hedonistic delights deserved of such over the top monikers…Beluga Caviar, Krug Champagne, Kobe beef, Bluff oysters and of course, our very own central Victorian black truffles.

Native to Europe the black truffle is one of the most expensive edible mushrooms in the world selling for up to $4000 a kilo. However, as you only need a few grams at a time, I prefer to think of them as one of the greatest affordable delicacies available. For $25 worth of freshly shaved black truffles you can turn a great meal in to a memorable life-affirming feast!

The cultivation of black truffles in Europe goes back more than 200 years. They are the result of truffle spores being added to oak tree seeds during germination. The spore inoculates onto the root system.

It’s quite a scientific process and there are few people who do it successfully.
Several years after inoculation trees grow and truffles are produced. France, Spain and Italy are the largest producers of truffles in the world with Australia’s burgeoning industry gaining fast in fourth.

The fruiting bodies of the black truffle exude a scent reminiscent of undergrowth, strawberries, wet earth or dried fruit. Some suggest they smell like sex, but I’m unsure that can be quantified or substantiated! Their taste, which fully develops after the truffles are heated, is slightly peppery and bitter with a pungent earthiness. The aromatic compound, dimethyl sulfide in fruiting truffles is what attracts truffle hogs and truffle flies and is the scent that dogs can be trained to detect.

Truffles grow just below the surface of soil around the bases of several types of trees (most commonly Oak and Hazelnut trees).

Recently my staff and I were lucky enough to be invited to the property of Sue and Sharon Daly, sisters who co-inhabit a 20-acre farm just outside Daylesford in Central Victoria. Sue and Sharon are local health professionals with a true passion for the black treasures. They planted a two acre section of their property with 360 oak trees in 2007. In 2011 they were rewarded with their first truffle crop. In the future they hope to be able reap upwards of 40kgs a year when the truffle spores reach maturity over the next 10-15 years. By combining truffle sales and on-site truffle farm tourism they hope to have a decadent and fulfilling ride into foodie retirement…they currently supply about five local restaurants with their truffles. Thankfully we are one of those lucky five.

The Daly’s find their truffles with the help of their trusted working dogs – four year old sisters Abbie and Holly, who are a Labrador / Border Collie cross. The dogs have been trained to walk up and down the rows of trees and mark the ground with their paws when they smell a ripe truffle underground. We spent the afternoon with them foraging for truffles and were thrilled to find three. My chef was incredibly excited to be able to gently scrape and prize his first truffle from the ground that Abbie had marked for him. It’s a delicate process, so as not to damage the truffle, and is akin to watching an archaeologist on a fossil dig. It was a wonderful day that helped us connect the primary producer, farmer and earth to the product we use in our kitchen to create thoughtful dishes based on local ingredients for our customers. The Daly’s are such passionate and convivial women that regularly during our many truffle discussions, an air of bonhomie just exudes from them both. We are very grateful that they invited us.

In cooking, black truffles are used to refine the taste of meat, fish, soups and risotto. My chef currently makes very simple potato gnocchi with some fresh sage from our garden, quality Parmesan, butter and few marbled slices of fresh truffle on top. It’s our most popular dish every winter.

Victorian truffles are ripe for about eight weeks in the middle of winter. So if you want to try them – get to your favourite discerning restaurant before the end of August!

TRUFFLE TREASURES
PH: 0477 261 292
WEB: www.truffletreasures.com.au

 

Tim Baxter

With over 25 years experience in the food and drinks industry, Tim is the owner of one of central Victoria’s most celebrated restaurants, The Dispensary Enoteca, located in Bendigo. Despite having grown up wanting to play cricket for Australia, Tim is now celebrated as one of the countries finest authorities on food and drinks. “If Tim Baxter has not created the best all-round drinks list in Australia, he must be close”. The Age Epicure, 2012