The best thing about winter in Australia is truffles, says Dianne Bortoletto, as she unearths some facts about one of the world’s most expensive ingredients.
Fetching prices of up to $3,000 per kilo, the Black Périgord truffle, scientifically named Tuber Melanosporum, is one of the most expensive ingredients on the planet, justifying it’s colloquial name ‘black gold’.
Made famous by the culinary delights of the French, Italian and Spanish where truffles originate, Australia is also a serious player in the industry.
The chances are that if you’re a decadent foodie or live in a cooler part of Australia such as Canberra, Victoria, Tasmania or the south west of Western Australia, you’ll be familiar with black truffles.
Manjimup in Western Australia produces the most, some 10 tonnes per year and 85 per cent of the total production in Australia, thus it’s fair to say that Manjimup is the heart of Australian Truffle Country.
Black truffles are a rare and alluring underground fungi that are in season during the winter months. They grow in the roots of a host tree, usually inoculated oak or hazelnut trees and they only grow if the conditions are absolutely perfect – the right soils and drainage, the right temperatures, cold snaps at the right time and the right amount of rain. It takes a minimum of ten years for an orchard to start producing truffles, thus no not a very fast return on investment for those with dollar signs in their eyes.
Finding the truffles is the next challenge producers face. Since they grow underground, truffles can’t be detected by sight, only by smell. Truffle farmers Mel and Gavin Booth of Australian Truffle Traders in Manjimup also train dogs who nose out ripe truffles.
“Many years ago they used pigs to hunt for truffles, but dogs are far more useful, for starters dogs don’t eat truffles like pigs do,” the Scottish born farmer says.
“There’s a time factor to train dogs to be highly efficient and not just sniff out truffles, but to sniff out ripe truffles. You have to be patient with dogs, it takes three years to fully train a dog and its human for find truffles – it really is a team effort. You need to have that rapport and relationship with the dog to be effective.”
Visitors to Manjimup can join Gavin and Mel and their clever canines Molly, Max and Gidgee on truffle hunts at their farm every weekend. If you can’t get to Manjimup, you can buy truffles online direct from their farm and have them delivered to your door within 24 hours (Perth metro) to 48 hours (eastern states) of being unearthed. This is important because truffles have a short shelf life.
About three or four days after a truffle is dug up, it’s at its prime and ready to use, and it’ll last up to two weeks. The best way to store truffles is in the fridge in an airtight container with a little paper towel to absorb any moisture. To make the most of your truffles, store them in the same container as some eggs as the aroma permeates the shell and flavours the eggs.
“Truffles are impossible to describe,” adds Gavin. “The smell and taste are completely unique.”
Often described at earthy, mushroom-like and musty, truffles have an umami flavour that some people find irresistible, this writer included.
“Truffles are one of those ingredients that some people will walk over hot coals to access, while others can’t stand them,” Gavin says.
The best way to use truffle at home is to keep it simple. Truffles work incredibly well finely shaved or grated over warm dishes containing fats, think creamy pasta dishes, carbonara, or luscious scrambled eggs. My top five favourite simple ways to use truffle at home:
- Finely grated over spaghetti carbonara
- Thinly sliced on scrambled eggs
- Thinly sliced on fried eggs on toast
- Cut a small wheel of brie horizontally in half and layer with thinly sliced truffle, leave it wrapped in the fridge for a couple of days and warm it in the oven on 160 degrees for 15 min or until gooey
- Thinly sliced on quality toast with lashings of butter and raw honey – try it!
You can order truffles online and have them delivered to your door direct from the farm – www.australiantruffletraders.com.au
Pronto PR represents Australian Truffle Traders.
Dianne Bortoletto is a freelance travel and food writer and blogger at Travelletto.