Monday, April 19, 2010

black magic

When is a nut more than a nut ? well I am glad you asked. This is a question I asked my chefs on a recent very cold, wet and windy Monday morning as I loaded them onto a bus at the very unchef like hour of 5.30 am. Not surprisingly this was met with a chorus of moans, groans and mumbles. Ok the answer to the question is when you can use the humble little acorn to produce one of the worlds most prized and expensive ingredients the black truffle.

We were lucky enough to get a tour of Tim Terry's truffle farm at Mole Creek and it was the best road trip to a producer that I have been on. We met Tim at his property around 7.00 am, well maybe 7.15 am after I stopped stalling the bus and got it out of the hedge I had backed into, sorry boss. The tour started at the nursery where Tim explained the process to us in great detail but in a way that all of us could understand. I thought I had a good understanding of how truffles are produced, boy was I wrong, The acorns are germinated and after a while the root system is inoculated with the truffle fungus. This fungus then grows on the root system and looks like tiny little fingers branching off the roots of the plant. The truffles actually form on the ends of these fingers and not on the root system as I had thought.
The first photo on the right is of Tim showing
us the fingers of the truffle fungus
that is growing on the root system. It was too fine to show up in a photo but clearly visible to the naked eye. The second photo shows a portion of the juvenile trees that have been inoculated.
The trees will stay in
the nursery until they mature enough to be planted out. There is
a lot that goes into the soil preparation to get the right balance
for optimum growing conditions. . According to Tim it has been an ongoing process of trial and error, research and trips to Europe to work with truffle producers and then adapt the process to Tasmanian conditions. Also a matter of trial and error with what trees are best suited, whether to produce just winter or just summer truffles or both. Go just for black or try for the holy grail of truffles the white. And thousands of other things to overcome when at the start everyone told Tim that it cannot be done in Tasmania. I for one am very glad that Tim did not listen to they nay sayers and went ahead to become the pioneer of the truffle industry in Australia. Any way back to the tour. After the nursery and answering all of our questions we went into the fields to get a first hand look.
We saw the original hazelnut trees and then the oak trees, and even a grove of poplar trees that Tim is hoping to harvest his first white truffles from this winter. And at a value of around $7000 a kilo I would be hoping as well. We walked among the oak trees as Tim explained what we were looking at and how the truffles grow and are harvested. Under the trees the ground is bare with nothing growing not even weeds and this is caused by the truffle fungus and is called the brulee as in creme brulee this means burnt or scorched. As the trees grow this brulee expands as well and one benefit from this is it cuts down on weeding so saves money on labor. Within seconds Tim was pointing and saying there is a truffle and another and another. Once Tim explained what he was seeing we soon started finding them as well and they were everywhere. Tim explained that if we were to dig up these truffles now they would be bright orange and have no scent as they were just beginning to grow. This bit of news put paid to the idea of filling our pockets with truffles that some of my chefs had. These truffles are going to be this years winter truffle harvest. At this stage as the truffle is growing it actually breaks the ground above it and you can see the cracks and mounds in the ground quite clearly.

Far left you can see the brulee under the trees. Near left you can see the ground breaking over a truffle. Once we knew what to look for we found them by the hundreds so this years harvest is looking good can not wait to use them.

We have used Tim's winter black truffles at the Lodge for our Tastings At The Top event last June and for a few dinners that winter as well. All I can say is amazing if you ever get the chance to try some of Tim's truffles you will not be disappointed. The winter truffles are by far stronger in scent and flavor than the summer truffles and this is reflected in the price $2000 per kilo for winter and $800 per kilo for the summer. This is not to say the summer truffles are no good it is just that the season for the truffles is winter. And as with any produce it is always best in season.
The truffle in the second photo I brought to Hobart with me on my next days off to share with Mrs chef and it was fantastic. The first thing I did was to store the truffle in an airtight container with 1 dozen free range eggs from the Sunday farmers market and let this stand over night. Then I placed some Wessex saddle back ham from Mount Gnomon Farm into a small ceramic dish grated some of the black truffle onto this. Cracked two eggs into the dish added a splash of cream some more grated truffle a grind of pepper and a bit of sea salt and baked it in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Fried up some of the Wessex saddle back bacon, sliced up some sourdough bread and there you have a breakfast that simply defies words. The flavors were so intense the truffle coming through beautifully.
This road trip was outstanding and all of my chefs got a lot out of it and enjoyed the day immensely. I would like to thank Tim for his time and patience and say that my hat is off to him for the work he is doing and I look forward to using his truffles in the future. As a chef it is fantastic to have Tim producing his truffles here in Tasmania. Yes the price per kilo is high but there is a lot of truffle in a kilo and you can get a decent size piece for home for around $50.00 depending on season. Tim can send fresh truffles throughout Australia in 24 hours and into Europe in 24 - 48 hours. I will place a link for Tim's truffles in the link section of my blog. The packaging Tim uses is excellent and the truffles arrive to you as good as they were when dug up.

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