Trufflepalooza 2!

I sorted out a few of the world’s problems the other night. Well, one at least. My friend that owns a pub was telling me that he went through something like 120kgs of chicken fillets for parmas last week. That’s a lot of chicken – something like over 400 parmas. Over a quiet beer, we mused over the work involved by his kitchen to turn all of that chicken into schnitzels and he casually mentioned the skin that gets thrown away.

Hello? Haven’t you seen what Josie Bones does to chicken skin? I think I managed to convince Rick that he was not only throwing away pure profit, but also a tasty bar snack to go with the thousands of litres of beer that he sells on a weekly basis. So if you see chicken skin crackling on offer at an established High St, Northcote pub, you’ve got me to thank (with partial credit to Josie Bones).

I’m not sure as to what that had to do with this post, other than the fact that chicken skin crackling is lovely,  but the conversation occurred on Monday night and a Monday night is normally not a night I’d choose to be out, especially this one. I had a cold; I felt a little miserable and quite frankly, a little out of place by not being rugged up at home so early on in the week. But [sigh], there was work to be done in the form of trying some of this year’s truffles at the Fringe Food Festival’s Truffle Extravaganza – in its second year at The Estelle.

I wasn’t going to blog about it. For some strange reason, I was certain that there would be nothing new to discover. By around September last year, I was a little over truffles. Primarily due to my experiments involving my own 50 gram nugget of black gold I’d purchased through Friend & Burrell. However, September through to July is a long time between drinks (or truffles in this case) and I guess that’s the point of enjoying something seasonal; consume it until you get sick of it, wait nearly a year and you can fall in love with it all over again.

So here we all were, back at the Estelle, with a bespoke menu that had been designed for the night. We were first  welcomed with an aperitif of (I might get it wrong here) prosecco, featuring some shaved truffle and a bitter, sticky and sweet candied cumquat, submerged at the bottom of the glass.

With my palate refreshed after one or two aperitifs, we were presented with the first of five tastes; Potage Parmentier, Smoked Trout & Quark.

For the uninitiated… like me at the time, a parmentier is more or less a potato soup. As Scott Pickett (Head Chef and owner of  The Estelle) pointed out, it was essentially a vichyssoise (normally served cold), but served hot; which made it a parmentier. Get it? I did eventually.

A glass featuring a colourful micro garden of smoky flaked trout, the salty pop of salmon roe, a hint of herb contained in small, creamy dots of quark, bitterness and colour from some petite flowers and a generous grating of Manjimup truffle (WA) from the Wine & Truffle Company, was placed in front of each guest before this artful landscape disappeared under a lake of potage parmentier. It was sad to see something so delicate drowned in soup, but it was more than worth it. A great start to the night.

The accompanying Carlo Pellegrino Marsala Vergine Riserva DOCG 1962 (Sicilia, Italy) was on the drier side of sweet (not too sweet); a daring and interesting pairing, as were the majority of the wines for the night.

Next up was a Blue Swimmer Crab, Risoni & Basil. As Scott pointed out when walking through the dish, it would have been too obvious to make a risotto. The use of risoni resulted in a much lighter dish and the flavour of the crab was prominent. The use of basil was subtle, but still quite evident. Again, a generous dose of truffle, this time Terra Preta Truffles from The Marshall Family in Braidwood, NSW, complimented the richness of the dish – the ideal vehicle for truffle.

The 2011 Rockburn Pinot Gris (Central Otago, NZ) displayed a little sweetness, but was crisp and dry enough to cut through some of the richness of the risoni.

I’ve been deliberating as to what my favourite dish was on the night. I chose the next dish for a couple of reasons. Although the Macaroni, Carbonara & Girolles was probably the least complex dish of the night, it delivered on the elements as to what is a quintessential truffle dish.

The hand-rolled pasta evoked a story from Scott on how he used to roll 400 of these in the early hours of the morning when he was working as a Junior Sous Chef at the two Michelin starred restaurant, The Square, in London. The al dente macaroni was combined with smoky lardons of bacon and anointed with a light carbonara sauce of the traditional eggs, cheese and black pepper. Girolles, arriving fresh from France that day, gave the dish that extra touch of luxury, athough the dish was already luxurious enough with truffle from Great Western Tiers in Deloraine, Tasmania; the home of Australia’s first black truffle. The simplicity, the luxury, the story and of course the flavours, made it my dish of the night. But only by a fraction against the dish that followed.

I mistakenly said to someone on the night that it was the first time I was to try Croatian wine, forgetting about the $1/litre stuff we drank to excess in Jelsa, on the island of Hvar back in 2000. Backpackers… enough said. I assume a lot has changed since then because the 2010 Matosevic Malvazija ‘Alba’ (Istra, Croatia) was a belter. Some great acidity and a little minerally; a perfect pairing. I was also told that Croatian wine will be the next best thing in Australia over the next 12 months, so keep your eyes peeled folks.

I sincerely regret not taking a photo of the penultimate dish; vanilla, honey & burnt orange. The description of the dish on the menu was a tad understated. The was actually vanilla, honey, burnt orange AND truffle sponge AND truffle ice cream.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about truffle ice cream. It’s kinda greyish looking and not all that asthetically appealing  (the same went for the sponge), but it was probably the tastiest ice cream ever. You’d think that much of the pungent flavour of the truffle (from Tamar Valley Truffles in Launceston, Tasmania) and vanilla would be lost in its frozen form, but this was not the case. Given the alledged $12 per scoop price tag, Scott declared this as pretty much a one-off. It didn’t matter. I got to eat it. The burnt orange gel was used wisely as the sparing smear packed a punch. Floral notes and crunch were provided by honey-crusted macadamias and it lived up to the wonderful standard of Ryan Flaherty desserts at the The Estelle.

Some of the sweetness driving the not overly sweet dessert came from the Chambers, Muscadelle ‘Rosewood’ NV (Rutherglen, VIC), which really picked up on the burnt orange.

We managed to share the Baked Clarines, fig & beetroot between the three of us, which in hindsight was a little ridiculous. It was warm and gloopy. It was creamy and rich. It was studded with truffle.

The accompanying beetroot and fig preserves are standard fare at The Estelle, forming some of the condiments offered on their charcuterie board. Exemplary. The Chateau de Vaux “Les Hautes Bassieres” Pinot Noir (Moselle, France) was very aromatic and close to being too tannic for my palate. Still, I managed to drink a second glass.

Since last year and as expected, the market for truffles continues to grow exponentially. There are (probably) more growers and there is definitely better access to truffles for you and me. South Melbourne’s Madame Truffles has positioned itself to make it more affordable for the consumer. A little truffle goes a long way and Madame Truffles offers a choice of WA, NSW or Tasmanian truffles (and Victorian ones later in the season) at around $3.00-$3.40 per gram, with only a minimum purchase of 15 grams, increasing at 5 gram increments, depending on your truffle needs. I know I’d be much happier and less reluctant to part with a $50 to finesse my dinner party dish or simply keep it all for myself eat the best scrambled eggs known to man.

If you haven’t tried truffles, you should. If you want to try truffles, then get along to the remaining Fringe Food Festival dinners over the next couple of weeks. There’s one at St Ali this Thursday, 5 July (details here) or there is another on 15 July at Eleonore’s at Chateau Yering in the Yarra Valley (details here).

Failing that, go and grab yourself a small chunk of truffle this weekend and at the very least, make some of the most simplest egg or pasta dishes into the most fantastic dishes you have ever tried. You won’t regret it.

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