The frost is tingling the toes - freezing them actually - as you dance around at 4am trying to round up your pig that is trying to get into the house, and you have that feeling that her time is about up.
Yep, it's truffle time. You can almost hear them form underground, pure flavour, a microbial gift found at the feet of oaks and hazels. Their coming gets your adrenalin pumping and it's time to get the usual suspects ready - eggs, butter and pasta.
With the first dark gem I had under my supervision this year, I made a simple fondue. For the event, I found some slacks and a turtle-necked jumper, metaphorically at least. It's a bit too weird eating fondue in skinny jeans and a man scarf.
Fondue is made by reducing white wine and slowly melting in cheeses that might come from an alpine region - emmental, gruyere, Swiss cheese even, although I'm pretty sure they don't eat Swiss cheese in Switzerland.
Into this little cauldron of molten curd you grate a good amount of truffle. It's hard to be exact; truffles are expensive, so as much as you can spare.
Dip little pieces of bread on skewers, wrap the stringy, melted cheese around, making sure you have plenty of truffle grits, then down it. You'll probably remove the layer of skin on the roof of your mouth but there's no question the flavour of truffle is piercing.
But as I eat this, I'm thinking it's a little too strong. For me, truffles should be about enhancing the food they're cooked with; otherwise, all you get is that sweaty, earthy character and you might as well just eat the damn thing neat, a la Paul Bocuse.
So if you want to try it with cheese, buy a Clarines or Epoisses cheese. Both are expensive French washed rinds. Remove the plastic cover but leave the cheese in the bamboo basket it comes in. Chop up the truffle and wedge the pieces into the cheese, pour over a glass of riesling, place on a barbecue or in a heavy-based fry pan and cook until the cheese starts to bubble. Now you can spread this on to sourdough and have one of the world's greatest food experiences.
Or just grate the truffle on to scrambled, just-laid farm eggs, with salt and pepper. These are simple foods that gods would eat.
But I'm looking for a new way to express the truffle, a recipe that doesn't require a food lab handy and a week free. Now I have a pig, I have neither spare time nor cash. I'm looking to the brilliant books by chefs Rene Redzepi and Mark Best for inspiration. In Redzepi's Noma I find what I'm looking for. It doesn't require too much truffle but gives you a pretty intense expression of the flavour. What makes this special is a secret ingredient, smoked pork fat.
It's a little like lardo or the Spanish tocino. It's the back fat, cured and smoked. It's not easy to find but you can buy a piece of smoked speck and just use the fatty part. You cook it down, freeze it, then shave it over warm food and it's just a beautiful garnish. It dissolves, leaving just a shimmer of fat and a whiff of smoke.
This gives a lot of bang for your buck, adding a smoky bacon character to the earthy truffle flavour and it's all bound together with mashed kipfler potato. We've got a lot of kipflers at the moment. They're a full-flavoured, buttery spud and with the milk, cream and butter that you whip into it, there's plenty of dairy fat to carry the truffle flavour through the starch.
So a potato dish using kipflers, topped with a truffle puree, smoked speck fat and the piece de resistance, a buttery whey sauce. At first glance, it didn't look like much, but, wow, it worked a treat at a recent wine dinner to say goodbye to our vintage workers. Simple but complex in flavour, an elegant dish that shows you how interesting truffles can be. I used truffle oil to augment the flavour, as the recipe suggests, since the early truffles tend to be light on flavour. But by mid-July the real gems will start to arrive at the markets and you could back off on the oil if the truffle really stinks. You be the judge.
Now to the pig.
Truffled kipflers with smoked lardo and whey
200g speck fat or tocino or smoked lardo
250g plain, unsweetened yoghurt
700g kipflers, peeled
75g butter, diced
25g truffle, smashed
2 tbsp reduced stock or jus
20ml truffle oil
30ml grapeseed oil
30g butter, diced
Cover the smoked fat with water and simmer for two hours. Drain, place between two plates and weigh down in the fridge to set, for about an hour. Wrap and freeze.
Set the yoghurt in a colander lined with cheesecloth and collect the whey over 24 hours. You should have about 120 millilitres of whey at the end. Keep the drained yoghurt for another use.
Cover the potatoes with salted water and boil until soft, then drain and remove. Put the milk, cream and butter in the hot pot, bring to a boil and return the spuds. Whisk to form a very loose mash, pass through a fine sieve to remove lumps and season. Add more milk if needed. It should be a soft puree that holds its shape. Keep warm. (Note: a Thermomix makes the most amazing whipped potatoes, just saying.)
Crush the truffle in a mortar and pestle and mix in the stock. As if you were making a mayonnaise, slowly drizzle in the oils, whisking well to form a black emulsion. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the whey until it's hot enough to dissolve the butter in, being careful not to boil it. You will have a milky-looking liquid.
Take the speck out of the freezer when everything is hot and ready to serve. Shave this into curls with a sharp knife.
In the centre of each plate, place a good spoonful of potato. Top with the truffle emulsion and a few shavings of speck fat, and drizzle with whey.
That's it! If you're looking for something special to serve with this, look to burgundy. We enjoyed an 11-year-old red Corton, with its own slightly smoky flavour.
>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin.com.au.