Now we have past the solstice, we are in the coldest part of the year and that means that the French Perigord black truffles will be ready for harvest from our local truffière. Janine and I planted 8 inoculated truffle trees 2 years ago, one, a holly oak, didn’t like it here and turned up its toes pretty quickly, but the other 7 have survived for two years now. The 2 stone pines inoculated with Italian white truffles are growing strongly. As are the hazelnuts carrying the black Perigord truffle spores. The remaining holly oak is not too happy, but the English oaks are doing OK.
3 Perigord Hazels, A very tiny holly oak, a thriving Italian stone pine and an English oak that has trippled its height and is growing very well..
We don’t expect much from any of these trees, It’s just a fun project on the side. If one day we find a truffle, say in 5 to 10 years time, then it will be a bonus. Growing truffle trees is quite a bit of work and to achieve success, you have to take it quite seriously. I don’t, so our chances of success are greatly diminished.
We live in a suitable climate here, with just the right conditions of light winter frosts and hot summer days, but our rainfall, especially in the hotter summer months is rather on the low side in most years. Although who can say what will happen in the future, as the climate seems to be changing quite a lot for us here. We are stating to get less winter frosts and more summer rainfall.
Rainfall is not a problem for the serious grower, as piped irrigation is cheap and easy to install. We have dams and pumps and could do this, but for a marginal hobby activity like this it’s still a lot of extra work, not just to install, but to maintain and to remember to put it on when it’s required. I have enough to think about already.
So, all in all, it’s somewhat easier to go and visit the local truffière and buy a nice plump, black, fragrant truffle right now while they are in season. Geordie is going out to pick up the order for the restaurant and he takes us along. It’s a beautiful place. The trees are young and only just coming into harvest in the last few years. Each year the harvest is doubling. I’m a bit dismayed to hear that the holly oaks are the best producers in this area. Regrettably, it is the hollyoaks that are doing the poorest for us in our garden. Not an auspicious sign for us. One dead and the other not even able to grow up to the level of the rabit proof tree guard.
It turns out that we have met the truffle grower many time before in another place. He picks me out. “I know you”. At least he knows my hat. It’s a cold wintery day with light showers blowing in and we are all rugged up. I have on my distinctive large Basque beret. He says “I know that hat. You are a regular at The Royal Society Meetings!”
It’s true, I am. I suddenly recognise Ted, It’s one of those occasions when a face is out of place and suddenly snaps into cognition at the mention of a key word. Ted is on the door at the meetings and we speak regularly, if only superficially. I often wear my Basque beret to the Royal Society meetings on the cold winter nights.
Ted has the record for the biggest truffle ever grown in Australia. 1.173 kgs! The world record is around 1.3+kg for a truffle found in Croatia. The French record is also around 1.3 kg.
He has just harvested and there a quite a few nicely sized truffles to choose from. They don’t do retail sales, so we are lucky to be tagging along with Geordie. However, they do take booked, guided tours on selected weekends through the harvest season.
I pick a nice lumpy, mid-sized one that smalls exotic and deliciously fragrant. What is the aroma of a truffle? I can’t define it. I’ve seen it written that it is like “Old socks and sex. Open the spice cupboard and take a deep sniff. Crush an unpeeled clove of garlic. Find some damp leaves and dig your fingers into the earth underneath (oak leaves are best). Then go for something floral, lilies for penetration, roses for sweetness.”(Australian Truffle Growers Assn.)
Now, I didn’t write that, I lifted it from the Australian Truffle Growers Assn. Website, but I can see what they are getting at. I get the old sox and sex bit. Forrest floor compost and some higher floral notes. I can’t come up with a better description, so this will have to do.
We get our precious truffle home and store it in the fridge in a bed of rice along with 2 eggs. The rice will absorb the flavour of the truffle as will the eggs. We’ll be having lightly scrambled eggs for lunch with a little bit of truffle grated on top. Simple, elegant and amazingly flavoursome. The rice will be used to make a truffle risotto for dinner. That’ll be half of our truffle gone. We’ll replace the rice and eggs while we consider our other possible menu options.
I opened the fridge this morning and the even though the truffle is buried in rice in a sealed container. I can smell that distinctive aroma as soon as I open the door. it’s fabulous!
We decide on the simplest of scrambled eggs for lunch and I grate a load of truffle onto them. I feel generous now while the truffle is still so large. In the past when we have bought a very small 20mm, thimble sized truffle, we have used it all in one meal. No reason to be mean with it. Grate it on and really enjoy it. This is the first time that we have had the luxury to think about other meals to follow.
It is fantastic. This winter treat has been a long time coming. The only thing that can improve on this very basic recipe is a little butter to grease the pan and some real salt to help bring out the flavour.
Truffles really make the winter worth waiting for. One of the great joys of seasonal local cuisine.