Food and Drink

   

In Season: Truffles

Posted by Robert Clark

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Back in the early ’70s you could rattle off most of the dishes on a Melbourne restaurant menu before you ever set foot in the place. There was always Oysters Kilpatrick, Chicken a la King, Filet steak Chasseur, Chicken in a basket  – and Tournedos Rossini, named after the great composer. Rossini loved truffles, and is quoted: ‘I have wept three times in my life. Once when my first opera failed. Once again, the first time I heard Paganini play the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic’.

Tournedos Rossini should be two small medallions of eye filet steak topped with foie gras, Madeira sauce and sliced truffles. More often and not the unknowing were ripped off – fresh truffles were unobtainable. But where I was an apprentice we used truffles, reverently picked out of tiny tins.

So what’s all the fuss about truffles, apart from the fact that at $1,500-2,000 a kg they must be very special? Well now is the time to find out. Right now you can buy locally grown truffles, and many restaurants are putting on truffle tastings and degustation menus featuring the fungi. And there are a ‘pop-up’ trufferies, like ‘Madam Truffle’ where you can buy them direct, as well as online.

Truffles are a subterranean mushroom. In their natural environment they are spread through being eaten animals that dig them up, traditionally pigs, and spreading the spores.

‘Black’, or ‘Périgord truffle’s , are named after the region in France where they were originally discovered and grow in association with oak and hazelnut trees. They have since been found in Spain, Italy, Slovenia, and having been introduced, are now grown in Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and New Zealand. The first black truffles to be produced south of the equator were grown in New Zealand in 1993.

The first Australian truffles were harvested in Tasmania In 1999, eight years after planting trees inoculated with the truffle fungus. Success in Tasmania, and the high prices obtained has seen the market develop. Total Australian production is now about 1,000kg a year, some weighing up to 1kg each are being produced. At around $1,500 per kg we could see a ‘truffle rush’ in the countryside.

Harvest of local truffles is from mid June until early September, and starts with the first frost, the freezing nights bringing on the maximum aroma. Cold areas on Tasmania and the highlands of Victoria, NSW and WA have the potential to produce truffles that exhibit the sweet, earthy fragrance and savoury characteristics of those from Perigord and Provence.

In recent years there has been a lot of debate about whether truffles from different regions taste the same or not. Tasmanian truffles are said to be sweeter, whereas some think WA truffles more closely resemble the French variety.

Luckily, because of their price, truffles need to be used sparingly – just a little can impart the most wonderful flavour into food. Because of the permeability of their shells, whole eggs can be infused with truffle flavour by placing them in a sealed container along with small piece. A couple of slices can flavour a sauce and the peelings used to add complexity to stocks.

Truffles have a powerful aroma and flavour and permeate everything around them, and should be used with ingredients that are able to take a back seat and let the truffle have the lime light.

So, don’t pair with ingredients with strong flavors or aromas. Fats help bring out the truffle flavor, so are often paired with foie gras, butter, cheese, cream, and oils. They also go well with pasta, rice, potatoes, garlic, onion, chives, leek, celery, celeriac and parmesan. They should be shaved, slivered or very finely sliced – a special shaving tool is often used for this. You want to maximize the truffle flavor while the smallest amount possible possible.  And always use them the same day, or within three days of purchase.

For simple first attempts at using truffles try them shaved into scrambled eggs, thinly sliced with mushrooms on toast, or on pasta with a creamy sauce.

Or try truffled mashed potato, to garnish a great porterhouse steak, or grilled Atlantic salmon, with some early local asparagus.

TRUFFLED MASH POTATO
Cook some mashing potatoes and mash with cream to produce a smooth creamy puree, don’t add any extra salt or pepper at this stage.

Take a 50g truffle shave three quarters of it into the mash and in mix well.

Leave the mash to stand while you prepare the other items. This will give the truffles time to permeate the potato with flavour (it can be re-heated in the microwave).

Plate your dish and grate the remaining truffle on top, scattering it over all the items on the plate – and take time to smell the truffles!

For more information about truffle recipes or workshops available, please visit the à table website.


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