Heavenly: Angel hair pasta with truffle sauce, from Antonio Carluccio's cookbook Pasta. Photo: Laura Edwards
For too long now, the truffle has been associated with the type of diner who eats caviar for breakfast and feeds foie gras to the cats. However, great food should be more than just the privilege of Bentley owners. A fresh truffle has a pungent, earthy aroma that tastes like nothing else. Everyone should experience an Australian black truffle at least once and preferably many times after that.
There's now a bunch of restaurants hosting truffle-themed dinners around town, and if that's not your bag, there's a weekend truffle hunt two hours' drive from Sydney, cafes and restaurants serving fresh truffle specials, and stacks of stockists where you can buy your own black diamonds to cook at home.
Our recent bout of warm weather means truffles are a bit late to harvest this year, so it's best to ring first to check if the bounty has arrived.
Black gold: Australia is growing more and more of this buried treasure.
Flying Fish Restaurant and Bar
The clean tastes of the sea combined with the sulphurous musk of truffles? Not as uncommon as you might think, especially with shellfish. Stephen Seckhold, executive chef at Flying Fish, and Duncan Garvey of Perigord Truffles of Tasmania will host a six-course truffle degustation on Thursday, August 7. Garvey is one of the pioneers of the Australian truffle industry, harvesting the first Aussie truffle back in 1999.
$165pp with matched wines. Bookings from 6pm, August 7. End of Jones Bay Wharf, 19-21 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont, 9518 6677.
Devon Cafe's ultimate truffle toastie.
Col and Sue Roberts from Lowes Mount Truffiere will host a five-course forest-floor feast at the Hilton's Glass brasserie on Tuesday, June 24. Lowes Mount Truffiere is a leading producer of NSW truffles from Oberon in the Blue Mountains, and Col and Sue have been hosting intimate truffle dinners at Glass for the past four years.
$195pp with matched wines. Hilton Hotel, 488 George St, Sydney, 9265 6068; 6.30pm, June 24.
The Crown Street restaurant has put together a five-course truffle degustation. Available every Wednesday in June, diners can expect to start with confit purple congo potato with truffle mayonnaise, truffle poached egg and pickled pine mushrooms, and finish with the likes of chocolate, truffle, and hazelnut tart with truffle curd, burnt butter, and truffle ice cream. Would you like some truffle with your truffle, ma'am?
$109pp or $179pp with matched wines. 527 Crown St, Surry Hills, 8065 7223; Mon-Sat noon-10.30pm.
Ormeggio at the Spit
Truffles make chef Alessandro Pavoni homesick for his native Italy. This truffle season at Ormeggio he's looking to do a three-courses truffle dinner with dishes including veal battuta with eshallots, pinenuts, anchovy oil and truffle, and a risotto with truffle and pecorino. The menu will be available when truffle season is in full swing: contact the restaurant for dates.
$120pp; D'Albora Marinas, the Spit, Mosman, 9969 4088; Wed-Sat 6pm-11pm, Sun 6-10pm, Thurs-Sun 12-3pm.
Rockpool "original" is pulling out all the stops on July 21 with a seven-course truffle deg. Chef Phil Wood has designed a menu that includes truffle-studded chicken wing with konbu butter and sliced wagyu sukiyaki with confit potato, oxtail sauce and and tableside truffle service. Not the cheapest way to spend a Monday night, sure, but the not-so-new Rockpool location is the sexiest room in Sydney and all signs point to this being an unforgettable evening.
$265pp or $460 with matched wines. July 21. 11 Bridge St, Sydney, 02 9252 1888.
The Surry Hills cafe is rocking the ultimate toastie this winter. The Guillaume Brahimi alumni Zach Tan and Jacqui Ektoros are happy to shave you some black truffle over pecorino, gruyere and wild mushrooms in parsley and garlic butter. Two, please. Devon will also be pimping up scrambled eggs and side dishes with the option of truffle on top.
76 Devonshire St, Surry Hills, 9211 8777; Mon-Fri 6.30am-4.30pm, Sat 8am-3.30pm.
Peter Doyle incorporates perigords into many of his seasonal dishes during winter, often whipping out a capellini pasta emulsified with truffles, butter and soft egg. ''We also display the fresh truffles in showcase-topped glass vases so guests can enjoy the aromas at the table,'' Doyle says.
Establishment, 252 George St, Sydney, 9240 3000; Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm, Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm.
Dan Hong is dishing up black truffle fried rice at Merivale's ever-popular Cantonese restaurant. ''We make a simple egg fried rice with shitake mushrooms and butter,'' says Hong.''We don't want to overpower the fragrance of the rice but the shitakes only accentuate the truffle aroma.'' Black truffle is finely grated on top of the rice just before serving - something like a Chinese version of black truffle risotto.
3 Bridge St, Sydney, 9240 3000; Mon-Sun noon-late.
How does lobster tail roasted in the shell with Pepe Saya truffle butter sound? Amazing, right? Executive Chef Justin North will have it on the menu at the glitzy Woollahra pub in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can head there and indulge in baked Dutch cream potatoes with truffle butter instead. The spuds are baked over aromatic salt, the flesh scooped out, mixed with truffle butter, and then served with the crisp potato shells.
88 Oxford St, Woollahra, 02 9362 3838, Mon-Sat 12pm-12am; Sun 12-10pm.
Yelverton Truffles in Robertson
Robertson is home to ''The Big Potato'', the ugliest oversized tourist ''attraction'' in Australia - but start referring to the black behemoth as the ''the Big Truffle'' and it becomes instantly more pleasing. At their property in the southern highlands, Ted and Barbara Smith offer weekend perigord hunts through to August. You'll get refreshments on arrival, a truffle talk, and hunt with the dogs in the rolling highland hills. See their website for dates and times.
$65pp, bookings essential. Yelverton Pastoral, 4885 1924, yelvertontruffles.com.au.
Rosewood Truffiere in Marulan
Locatedon the southern highlands' border, Rosewood is one of the oldest truffle farms in the state. Truffle hunts take place on June 30 and then each Saturday in July for groups of 12. There's a light lunch of truffle creamed soup, bread rolls and truffled camembert. Any found truffles can be purchased on the day after a cleaning and weighing ceremony.
$110pp, bookings essential. 15 Davies Rd, Marulan, 4841 1274.
Black Tie Truffle Hunt, Borrodell Vineyard
The annual Black Tie and Gumboot Truffle Hunt at Orange's Borrodell Vineyard is on again. On July 19, punters have to starch their cumberbunds, polish their Hunter-brand wellies and set off for a hunt with the dogs. Found truffles then play a starring role in a five-course dinner that evening.
$250pp, bookings essential. 298 Lake Canobolas Road, Orange, 6365 3425.
Truffle Hunt with Tawnya Bahr
Tawnya Bahr, chef and longtime champion of local produce, conducts regular tours to farms and markets of NSW. The July 20 truffle hunt to a secret trufferie in the Southern HIghlands includes round-trip transportation from Sydney’s CBD, a truffle-laden lunch (with a couple of glasses of wine) and a private hunt in the orchard with dogs an expert handler. You’ll also learn how to harvest, wash, and grade Perigords correctly.
$225pp, July 20, 0416 269 142, tawnyabar.com.
Pyrmont Growers' Market
Looking for the perfect birthday present for the food fan who has everything? Look no further. Lowes Mount Truffiere will have a stall at the Pyrmont Growers' Market the first Saturday of July and August. As well as fresh black perigord truffles, Col and Sue will also sell truffled butter, truffled salt and hazelnuts in truffled honey. Did someone say truffle party?
Pyrmont Bay Park, Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont; markets held the first Saturday of each month, 7am-11am.
Josh Rea's Gourmet Life is the largest supplier of European and Oz truffles in Australia, trading the aromatic fungus to Quay, ARIA and Bambini Trust among others. The new retail outlet at Darling Point looks the goods, also stocking Sant'Eustachio (Rome's oldest coffee), roasted hazelnuts from Piedmont, and hand-caught preserved seafood from Conservas de Combados in north-west Spain.
52-60 New South Head Road, Darling Point,9363 0775; Mon-Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 10am-4pm.
There are many Australian websites that will happily send you truffles via express post. The aforementioned Lowes Mount Truffiere and Perigord Truffles of Tasmania both offer such a service. The Truffle Store, Black Truffle Harvest and the Truffle and Wine Co will also deliver gifts from our golden soil to your door.
Al Blakers of Five Acres Nursery in Manjimup, Western Australia, ships truffles weekly during the harvesting season to Simon Johnson retail outlets. The area around Manjimup has a similar climate and environment to the Bordeaux region of southern France and thereby ideal for truffles. Because of the truffles perishable nature, a Simon Johnson store will rarely order more than it pre-sells, so get your orders in by high-noon Monday for delivery into stores on Thursday.
181 Harris St, Pyrmont, 02 8244 8240; 24A Ralph St, Alexandria, 02 8244 8220; 55 Queen St, Woollahra, 02 8244 8255.
FESTIVAL OF FABULOUS FUNGHI
By Carla Grosetti
In his latest book, Pasta, Antonio Carluccio suggests finishing off a dish of capelli d'Angelo alla salsa di tartufo (angel hair pasta with truffle sauce, pictured) with a few delicate discs of black truffle.
The Italian-born, London-based chef is notoriously mad for the exotic ingredient and will be in Australia to celebrate ''the fruiting body of the subterranean fungus'' as patron of this year's sixth annual Truffle Festival of the Canberra and capital region, held from June 21 to late August.
Australia is now the fourth-biggest producer of the black perigord truffle, and the 77-year-old chef says he is looking forward to digging for the buried treasure, which must first be snuffled out by trained dogs.
''The aroma of a truffle is something that incorporates the very essence of the earth,'' says Carluccio, who has been dusting the dirt off truffles since the age of five.
''I grew up with truffles. I have been participating in truffle hunts since I was a young child [growing up in the north-west of Italy] and have been obsessed with them ever since. There is something quite romantic about relying on the super nose of a trained dog to unearth this exotic ingredient … I love it,'' says the author and star of ABC-TV's Two Greedy Italians.
Carluccio agrees the culture surrounding the tradition of the truffle hunt is something that will become increasingly important to Australia's gastronomic scene, which he describes as being ''one of the most vibrant in the world''. The Tuber melanosporum - also known as ''the black diamond'' - grows underground around the roots of oak and hazelnut trees, which have been inoculated with the truffle spores.
Australia's truffle industry first took root in Tasmania in 1992, when the first host trees were inoculated with the truffle fungus. Seven years later, Perigord Truffles of Tasmania harvested its first cash crop, and today there are more than 200 growers dotted around the country, in the states of NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT.
Truffle Festival co-ordinator Lana Mitchell says the event has grown tenfold since its inception six years ago, and this year growers in the region expect a yield of more than 300 kilograms.
Mitchell says the ACT Truffle Festival will be an eight-week celebration of the local black Perigord truffle, with events that range from gourmet degustation dinners to cooking classes and truffle hunts. She says many of the participating truffieres offer a light lunch where guests enjoy the spoils from a hunt undertaken with a handler and dog.