On Saturday 9 July 2016, I joined a bus tour organised by Straight to the Source and Black Star Pastry to go on a black Perigord truffle hunt in the NSW Southern Highlands.
The Southern Highlands is located 70 minutes from Sydney and is about 500 to 900 metres above sea level on the Great Dividing Range. It has become a gourmet destination with wineries. diarys, livestock farms, vegetable growers, and gourmet restaurants serving locally grown food.
Our tour commenced at Black Star Pastry Rosebery where we received tea or coffee and a breakfast pack consisting of a bacon and egg slider, a berry danish and a mandarin to keep us nourished for our journey to Biota Dining, a two hatted restaurant in Bowral.
At Biota Dining we were served a very generous morning tea consisting of wet maize with egg with forest mushrooms, spring onions and truffle; Biota bircher hing yogurt and berries; Berkshire ham with gruyere cheese toasties with lavender and truffles; molasses rye bread with acacia cured trout and pickled cucumber; and puff with jam.
Biota Dining’s head chef, James Viles, took us on a guided tour of his kitchen garden. He talked about his vision to create a dining destination outside Sydney that supported both local farmers and growers, and used produce grown in his sustainable garden on site. He won a Sydney Morning Herald Hat at the age of 23 and a Sustainability Award for his commitment to using sustainable practices and sourcing his produce ethically. His restaurant has no menu and patrons are served a tasting menu using seasonal food.
Our next stop was Yelverton Truffle Farm at Robertson which was a 20 minute drive away. The farm is run by retired couple, Ted and Barbara Smith. This farm started out as a hobby where they planted 320 oak inoculated trees and managed to grow their first truffle after 4.5 years of planting.
At Yelverton Truffle Farm we listened to talk about truffles by Ted Smith before going on a truffle hunt alongside expertly trained dogs. This was followed by a cooking demonstration by Black Star Pastry’s Christopher Thé before enjoying a truffle-laden lunch.
Some of the things I learnt from Ted’s talk included:
- Black Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is named after the Périgord region in France and grow on the roots of oak or hazelnut trees
- The climate needs to be hot, dry and crisp in summer and frosty in winter
- The soil needs to be well drained and have a PH of 8.0
- Truffles are harvested in winter
- Dogs and pigs are used to search for truffles but pigs are seldon used these days because they tend to eat the truffles
- Truffles are prized as food and were called the diamonds of the kitchen by French chef Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
- In Australia, truffles have been farmed since the 1990s. They are grown in Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria, Australian Capital territory and New South Wales
- Perigord black truffles are bulbous and irregular in shape. When ripe, they should be black inside with many white veins
- Truffles are sold at about $2,000 a kilo
- Growing truffles is still a mystery. Some farms have successful grown them after 4.5 years but others have not produced any after 12 years
- Yelverton Truffle Farm is famous for having grown the largest truffle in Australia weighing 1.172 kilos. The truffle was sold for an undisclosed amount to a local winery and restaurant
- The largest truffle ever found was a white alba truffle from the Umbrian region in Italy that weighed 1.89 kilos. It sold at Sotherby’s for $61,250.
For the cooking demonstration, we learnt how to make a truffle mushroom quiche. Christopher showed us how to make a flaky pastry with 400 grams of flour, 300 grams of unsalted butter, 2 pinces of salt and 100ml of water. The pastry needs to be rested in the fridge for four hours so it does not shrink when it is rolled out. The filling consisted of 80 grams of thickened cream one egg per quiche (which are heated together), sauteed mushrooms, mozzarella cheese and shaved truffle.
The truffle-laden lunch included Darling Mills Farm greens and edible flowers, marinated Alto Misto olives, small goods from the German Butchery (liverwurst, wagyu brescola and smoked ham), truffle mushroom quiches, sourdough bread and Pepe Saya butter, truffled brie, celeraic soup (with pesto and shaved truffle on top). For dessert we had truffled eclairs with crushed hazelnut croquelin and choc whisky truffles. Truffles were liberally shaved or mixed in almost every dish.
Lunch was paired with wine tastings from local Tertini Winery, and the winemaker, Jonathan Holgate was on hand to talk about his award-winning cool climate wines.
We drove home in high spirits, sipping wine, doing a truffle quiz and talking about skipping dinner that night. We ended the night with an after hours tour of Black Star Pastry in Rosebery (which is where the tour started).
For information about Straight to the Source, go to: www.straighttothesource.com