First things first... When it comes to truffles, us Southwesters tend to not be talking about chocolate, but something equally delicious! We're talking about Tuber melanosporum, or black Perigord truffles; probably best understood as an underground mushroom. In reality though, the black truffles (nicknamed black gold for their high market value) are a soil fungi that live at the base of hazelnut and oak trees, in a symbiotic relationship with the tree’s roots.
Due to its ability to create near-perfect growing conditions, the Southern Forests region in Western Australia is the largest producer of black truffles in the Southern Hemisphere. Every year chefs from more than 30 destinations around the world order their truffles from Manjimup and surrounds, including The French Laundry in Napa and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in England.
Hunting for Truffles
The truffières (pronounced troo-fee-airs [you’re welcome]) in the Southern Forests region are among a small handful in the world that allow guests to experience a truffle hunt. From May to mid August, visitors to the region can follow (adorable) highly trained truffle dogs as they sniff their way through the region's orchards in search of the black truffle. Dogs have been chosen over truffle pigs (commonly used in Europe), as apparently they’re far gentler on the truffles, which can be devalued by something as little as a scratch. Dogs use their acutely trained and highly sensitive noses to detect the location of ripe truffles, and can detect a truffle up to 20 metres away and up to 30 centimetres below the ground. Check out the Australian Truffle Traders or Truffle Hill in Manjimup for tour availability.
What's all the kerfuffle about?
Truffles are said to act like a natural food enhancer, increasing the flavour of other foods. To truly find out what all the fuss is about, head along to the annual Truffle Kerfuffle Festival, held in Manjimup in June. The Kerfuffle is a weekend-long celebration of truffle season in the heart of Australian truffle country. A hands-on and adventurous festival, visitors can join truffle hunters to search out prized truffles, eat and drink their way through the festival marketplace or get their truffle fix at exclusive dining events, workshops and sessions.
Cooking With Truffles
Our friends at Truffle Hill have kindly shared one of their favourite truffle recipes with you. Starchy foods are the ultimate carrier of the truffle flavour, and Gnocchi stirred through a Truffle Cream and White Wine Sauce is one of the finest ways to showcase fresh black truffles.
POTATO GNOCCHI, FEATURING TRUFFLE & WINE CO’S FRESH BLACK TRUFFLES
700g peeled Ruby Lou potatoes
1 small egg
Small pinch salt
140g Plain Flour
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ onion finely chopped
375ml Truffle Hill Chardonnay
1 cup of chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 large garlic clove finely chopped
1 cup thickened cream
100g baby spinach
40g black winter truffle – ½ grated ½ sliced
Boil potatoes till cooked but still firm. Drain and put through potato ricer. Add egg, salt and flour and knead until combined, on a well-floured bench. Divide dough into balls, rolling each ball into sausages and cut into bite sized pieces. Roll each piece over the back of a fork, leaving a slight indentation. Cook gnocchi in batches in a pot of boiling salter water until they float to the surface of the pot.
Prepare sauce. Fry onion in olive oil until lightly brown then lightly toast the garlic. Add wine and reduce by half then blend until smooth. Add the stock and cream and reduce till the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Add gnocchi and the grated black truffle then add the spinach until wilted.
Serve with sliced black truffle. Add salt and pepper to taste.