Truffles have always been for me one of the ultimate rare and exotic ingredients . Their unique scent takes the simplest of dishes to quite another level. Fresh truffles are hard to find and have a fairly short season , from about the end of June to mid-August. So I was delighted to discover that black truffles were being grown on a ” truffiere” ( a plantation specifically designed for their cultivation ) not far from us at Tilba and that July was peak truffle season. Naturally this called for a visit and a truffle hunt, which we were able to arrange. There was much excitement at the prospect, particularly from Miranda’s two boys , Samson and Griffin. This was going to be quite an adventure.
Gulaga Gold Truffles is situated in a fairly remote valley far enough from the coast to get the frosts that are important for the ripening of truffles. In the distance you can catch glimpses of Mt Gulaga , the sacred Mother Mountain of the local indigenous people. The truffles grow in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees that have been impregnated with truffle spores. At Gulaga Gold the trees are a mixed plantation of evergreen and English oaks and hazelnuts.
Our guides for the hunt were the owners of Gulaga Gold, Fiona and Alan, with the indispensable assistance of Hepburn, a highly trained truffle-hunting dog. Hepburn’s role would be to sniff the ground around the trees until she located a truffle buried below the surface. At this point she would indicate her find by lightly scratching the ground above the truffle with her paw and wait for us to start digging. If we found a truffle she would be rewarded with a treat.
Hepburn has indicated where a truffle is buried by lightly scratching the ground at her feet.
Fiona goes to ground, sniffing to locate the exact position of the truffle, before gently digging around the spot with a spoon to expose the black gold. Even we beginners can smell the presence of a truffle . You could also tell that the scent can be very different from one truffle to another.
You have to be careful not to take a truffle before it has properly matured. If you disturb them too early, the truffle will go into a sulk and will never release its perfume. I love this little detail .
Here Miranda finds a perfect black truffle and lifts it straight from its hiding place with her spoon.
Samson and Griffin digging where Hepburn has indicated a truffle lies buried
We discovered that Samson and Griffin have very sensitive noses. They were even able to find truffles without the help of Hepburn. Super bravi!
Samson really liked the aroma of the truffle he found.
A good way to experience the full aroma of a truffle is to inhale it in a wine glass which is shaped to intensify the “nose” of the wine. I am enjoying this one!
After the hunt Fiona and Alan gave us a tasting of truffles mixed with other ingredients. There was Parmiggiano cheese that had been infused with truffle scents, a soft brie with thinly sliced truffles inside, some salt mixed with small pieces of truffle and – remarkably – a home-made ice cream with small truffle flakes. The ice cream was a big surprise, but it tasted really delicious!
We bought one of the truffles, wrapped it carefully in absorbent paper to keep it dry and took it home, talking all the while about how we would use it. In my next post I will tell you what we decided and how memorably delicious it was.