10 August 2016 - Eating Truffles
It's been four months since I no longer fall out of bed in the early hours of the morning to head down to the cafe. Particularly in the dark winter months I never found that to be a particularly joyful experience, waking to an alarm, rising in the dark and heading for the shower at great speed before the temptation of a warm bed can drag me back. So on a very cold, very dark and very early August morning I was not only up, but happily packing egg & bacon tartlets hot from the oven into a warmed tea towel lined tin ready for an early breakfast. Onto the bus they went along with little jars of bircher muesli, everyone's coffee order as requested and away we all went. Fourteen keen but uninitiated truffle hunters!
Four hours up the freeway and down a few country lanes and we arrived at the chosen truffle farm, Blue Frog Truffles, and a pretty cold, greyish Canberra morning. Wayne, our truffle farmer, greeted us in the doorway of the bus, allowing us a little longer in the warmth, while he outlined the next couple of hours of truffling. Wayne gave us a thoroughly informative, educational and interesting outline on the Australian Truffle Farmers' Association, an industry overview, his own personal truffle story and details of the truffiere. Wayne introduced us to Colin, as owner and trainer of Leroy, the Border Collie who was about to show us a thing or two about finding a truffle. Colin's story was as interesting as Wayne's, perhaps more fascinating because we had not realised the complexity of training the dogs to find truffles, nor witnessed the special bond between dog and handler up until this point.
The day was windy and Colin warned us in advance that this may throw the scent off by as much as 30-40 cm for Leroy, as he sniffs and searches. Off we went and Leroy races up and down the row concentrating very quickly on a preferred tree before he flops and drops on a chosen spot. Then Colin and Wayne, looking much like archaeologists remove their spoons and brushes from their tool pouches and begin to scrape away the soil.
It was fascinating to see them scrape a little, smell the soil, scrape a little, smell the soil, each time taking them closer to the prize as the soil weakens or strengthens in smell. Very quickly Wayne could locate the firm shape of the truffle and then the brush comes in to play as well so he can move the soil gently and carefully to disclose the size of the truffle without cutting into it by bringing the spoon too close. Leroy sits by patiently with an air of bored attentiveness, recognising there is a job to be done in bringing the truffle up but very aware that he will be rewarded, and rewarded for size as well as for locating!
Sure enough, up comes a good sized truffle, worthy of more than a liver treat, big enough for roast chicken, not quite big enough for raw beef. Colin says all dogs can be trained to truffle hunt but your beloved pooch may only do it once and call it a day whereas a working dog, Border Collie, like Leroy will chase and hunt for good periods throughout the day. Our delight was to smell the newly unearthed truffle which Wayne says can have as many descriptors as a good wine for the range of smells various people pick up as the predominant scent. For me it was the smell of super fresh crayfish, straight from the sea.
Once we had a good haul of truffles Wayne called it a morning and we gathered in the shed to see him wash and clean the truffles so they shone dark and black. While we enjoyed a warming mug of truffled pumpkin soup, truffle butter and slices of fresh truffle, Wayne washed and weighed our purchases! Buoyed by our new found knowledge it was back to the bus and into Canberra where our teachers awaited to guide us through the production of a four course truffle lunch.
A glass of prosecco greeted us, hopefully allaying the nerves for a few who just at this point realised it was a hands on session, a break down into three teams and away we went. For the next couple of hours each team produced cheese & truffle souffles, truffle fettucine, and a fluffy chestnut roulade with spun sugar to accompany truffle ice cream. Truffled brie was the pride of the cheeses for the fourth and final course. We sat, wined, dined, laughed and learnt a good deal about truffling. Tumbled back on the bus, greeted by the now almost too pungent smell of truffles tucked away to take home, and headed for home. A terrific day, a July fixture for 2017, see you then!