The Truffle Festival started in 2009 in Canberra to showcase the premium black Perigord truffles that are grown locally in the region and harvested every winter. The Truffle Festival starts on the winter solstice (21 June this year) and runs until late August. The Festival brings together truffle farms (truffieres), restaurants and cooking classes to celebrate this (very) expensive fungus that fine diners adore all around the world.
Of course, we are also fans of the distinctive aroma of black truffle and to get our fix, we decided to head straight to the source by signing up for a truffle hunt on a Sunday morning at a farm in Sutton, which is just inside the NSW border with the ACT.
There are hunts at various different truffle farms in the area on both Saturdays and Sundays for around $60 pp, but we chose the Blue Frog Farm hunt because it was convenient to get to (about 25 minutes drive from Canberra CBD) and fit our schedule. Little did we know that this particular hunt is in fact run by one of the creators of the Truffle Festival, Wayne Haslam, who was very knowledgeable about the truffle farming process and a great host for the hunt as he shared many little known facts about truffles with us.
We met up at the lovely Blue Frog Farm at 10am sharp to kick off the hunt which was led by Wayne and also a specially trained truffle hunting dog, a black Labrador by the name of Samson and his trainer, Jason. After disinfecting our shoes by stepping through a bleach bath, we entered the fenced off area of the farm where the truffles grow underground.
As we walked through the farm, we were careful to avoid stepping on the “brulee” which is the burnt circular area around the trees whose roots are infected with the truffle mycorrhiza, which produces the truffle as its “fruiting body”. The mycorrhiza produces a toxin that kills off the grass around the tree to reduce competition for the host tree’s nutrients and usually the truffle is found in the brulee area.
It didn’t take long for Samson the Labrador to find his first truffle; once he was let off the leash by his trainer he shot away to show us which tree the truffle was growing under and even the actual location of the truffle underground. Wayne then stepped in to dig out the decent sized truffle, which was crusted in dirt, but definitely had the distinctive aroma emanating from it.
We spent about an hour following Wayne, Samson and Jason around the oak and hazelnut trees as they searched for more ripe truffles (if they weren’t ripe enough, they would stick a marker in and come back for it later). After the hunt was over, we headed over to Wayne’s house down the hill to tuck into some of that fresh truffle!
We watched as they scrubbed up the truffles and shaved them into fine slivers for us to sprinkle onto the warm cups of creamy leek and parsnip soup made by Wayne’s wife. We also sampled some of their truffle infused cheese with crackers (yum!) and truffle in white chocolate pannacotta and chocolate mousse. The desserts were nice, but I prefer my truffles with savoury rather than sweet things.
There are really no words to describe the complex aroma and flavours that fresh black truffle has – you’ll need to try it for yourself and it’s different for each person depending on their tastebuds too. For me, the texture was kind of nutty and the taste was like an earthier version of a porcini mushroom. Safe to say, the real thing tasted nothing like the rather overpowering scent of truffle oil that’s used more commonly in kitchens and restaurants. Turns out that commercial truffle oil is actually made from a synthetic truffle “aroma”, which explains a lot.
The truffle hunt was an enlightening experience for me and well worth the money for truffle enthusiasts in my opinion (especially if you think about the amount of truffle you get to taste and how pricey it is at $250 per 100g on the market!) You can even buy some fresh truffle to take home if you are keen to cook with it.
The Truffle Festival in Canberra goes until late August – perfect for a quick weekend getaway for gourmet travellers from Sydney who want to try some of this “black diamond of the kitchen” for themselves.
Cost: $60 per person. Young ones under 15 are free, but must be accompanied by an adult.
When: 10am on Sundays from 21 June through to the end of July and possibly into August (depending on the harvest).
Blue Frog Truffles
63 Goolabri Drive
Sutton NSW 2620