Alexander Dumas in his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine wrote, “The most learned of men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber and, after two thousand years of argument and discussion, their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord.”
The Canberra Truffle Festival kicked off today with a launch party at the Fyshwick markets. As a country, Australia came relatively late to the truffle party; we’ve been growing truffles since 1992 – four years after our New Zealand neighbours. In the past, we’ve resorted to importing them from Europe – a formidable quarantine process, as you can imagine but it meant that chefs could only pair it with summer produce.
Only black truffles have been successfully introduced to Australia – they’re still working on cultivating white truffles here. Black Perigord truffles are local to the region, and the only farm within the ACT is Ruffles Estate at Mt Majura. Owner Sherry McArdle-English and her highly-trained truffle-hunting dog, Snuffles are a formidable truffle hunting team. The estate sits on 9 hectares, and Sherry says that she has 3 metre high fencing to keep rabbits, foxes and ill-motivated people out.
Truffles are a fungus and grow under the ground as a result of a symbiotic relationship with the roots of particular trees such as oaks and hazelnuts infected with the appropriate mycorrhiza (literally, fungus root). While they were originally confined to the wild, the past century has seen considerable research, particularly in France, into developing the capability of cultivating them as a domestic crop.
Suitable trees are inoculated with truffle spore tuber melanosporum. Truffles form in late summer and slowly mature during autumn and are ready to harvest in winter. Australia is home to an estimated 1,500 species of truffles, but before you get too excited, it’s worth noting that these are inedible and usually foraged for by native animals.
Headlining the launch event was chef and media personality, Jared Ingersoll who took us through some recipes and top tips for truffles. Firstly, truffles are only good for about two weeks. Secondly get the most out of your truffles by infusing them into eggs, rice or sugar. Jared suggests placing your truffle in a large jar and layer it with eggs and rice.
Most interestingly, he noted that most truffle oils do not contain any truffle whatsoever, and are concocted by mixing olive oil with one or more synthetic compounds so that the oil smells like truffles.
If you’re keen to join in on the the truffle festivities, the Truffle festival runs until early August and Canberra has something for everyone. The Wig & Pen are running a truffle infused ale, Two before Ten are doing a truffle and coffee experience, Silo has truffle dishes and butter balls and Soju Girl is doing a modern Asian fusion menu with truffle adventures, to name a few. For more info see this flyer.
Regional truffle hunts are conducting truffle hunts, and of course I will always encourage Canberrans to support local growers – ours is Sherry of French Black Truffles (Ruffles Estate in Mt Majura). Other truffle hunts are being held at Blue Frog Truffles (Sutton), Macenmist Black Truffles (Bredbo), Terra Praeta Truffles (Braidwood), Tarago Farm Truffles (Tarago), Turalla Truffles (Bungendore), Yelverton Truffles (Robertson).
If you’re just looking to get your hands on some to cook with, they range from about $1.50 to $2.50 per gram and are available at EPIC Saturday markets and selected delis at Belconnen and Fyshwick markets.