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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Evil

The Australian Truffle Industry’s history is fairly short; the first trees seeded with black truffle spores took place in Australia in 1993 and the first truffle was produced six years later in 1999, in Tasmania.

The Western Australians were instrumental in commercialising the industry in the mid 2000’s and now there are growers in every state and territory (bar the NT), with an estimated 150 registered growers. The Tasmanian and Western Australian growers still lead the way, by way of larger commercial growing operations, but NSW and Victorian growers contribute to over 60% of the market with approximately 95 smaller scaled independant and contracted grower truffière.

In 2010, Australian production of Black Truffle was estimated at 1.7 tonne and it’s forecast that by the end of the 2011 season, production will double. The Australian Truffle Industry is only a baby, but growing at an exponential rate.

I blame the wines, a later than normal night on a school night and the intense flavour of truffle that continued to resonate on my tastebuds, but it was mainly the wines.

After the Truffle Redux last Monday night, I foolishly jumped online and ordered a 50g truffle from Friend & Burrell for my own greedy experiments and consumption. The rest of the week was largely spent worrying about what to make with it. The other bits of the week left over were dealing to my buyer’s remorse. But hey, it’s tax refund time; if you can’t treat yourself, what can you do?

See? There’s always a plausible rationale. And a lot less coin than year’s 55 inch LED 3D TV that I was compelled to purchase for the family.

After some advice from SJ and Mat Beyer, I decided to hedge my bets and knock out a number of things to try the truffle in a few different ways.

Bryan Burrell and I coordinated our rendezvous out the front of my city office building on Friday afternoon. It reminded me a little of how a covert drug deal might go down. He rings me, I give him the location in code, he meets me downstairs, he’s the one in the dark glasses and overcoat, I’m wearing a flower in my lapel… well, that wasn’t exactly how it played out. The most striking thing was the undeniable perfume that hit you in the face like a rolled up newspaper when Bryan opened the back door to his car.

WHACK! It may indeed put you off truffles, through desensitisation. Then again it might not. It was amazing! Just when I couldn’t get more impressed, Bryan opened a large styrofoam esky to reveal a casual 8kgs of Western Australian truffles that arrived the day before. That was 24 grand’s worth of gear right in front of my eyes, only no threat of getting busted by ‘the man’.

Bryan also generously threw in some of their Iranian Sargol saffron and several Papa New Guinean vanilla beans to try out. For that, Bryan, you get a second plug: http://www.friendandburrell.com.au/

Thanks heaps!

Our 'third' child... but not for long

So with the exchange made, I raced straight home to settle my new baby in with whatever eggs we had in the fridge to impart the truffle flavour through the pourous egg shell and permeate the egg itself. I don’t remember much of high school science lessons, but I am thankful for osmosis in this instance.

 The next day was Saturday; time for a few preparations. The first cab off the rank was Truffled Butter. SJ put me onto Naomi’s Butter, made lovingly by Naomi Ingleton at The Butter Factory in Myrtleford, Victoria. Fortunately, Key Ingredients in Clifton Hill were relatively close to save me having to battle the Queen Vic Markets. Or the drive to Myrtleford.

There wasn’t much science to making the butter. I was more trying to get over the anxiety of cutting into ‘Nugget’. Sure, he’d only been part of  our family for around 18 hours, but he’d given so much joy to us. Mainly through us opening the fridge door and taking a big whiff. But it was time for some amputation.

Experiment # 1: Truffled Butter

For the 250g stick of butter, I decided 15g of truffle would be appropriate. So I had a best guess at slicing off roughly a third and the scales told me I was only 1 gram off at 16g. So far so good.

Fifteen grams of truffle looks like a lot when it goes through a microplane. After a quick mix of the planed truffle through the softened butter, I scooped the lot into a ramekin, covered it with cling wrap and chucked it into the fridge. After sampling what little evidence of truffled butter remained in the mixing bowl, I was glad I opted for salted butter.

Truffle dish number two was going to be a given. Since we missed out on sampling the Fromager des Clarines at the truffle dinner, I was always going to have to make this. Plus, it was also a tactic for K to approve of my extravagant purchase. 

Dairy loves Truffle

Although it seemed as simple as cutting horizontally into a chilled wheel of soft cheese, loading it up with as much truffle as it will hold, put the halves back together and wait for a few days before greedily tucking in, there were some specific instructions I was provided to ensure optimal success. I mean, throwing fifty bucks worth of truffle into an already twenty dollar cheese makes it a tad expensive experiment, therefore I wanted to get it as right as I could.

Now, that's a fuckload of truffle!
Mat’s Advice: Microplane the truffle, allowing more surface area to absorb into the truffle, give it 7-10 days for the flavours to develop and probably the most important, newly created unit of measure in the kitchen; use a fuckload.
 
SJ’s Advice: Scoop out some of the insides to enable the said ‘fuckload’ of truffle, use the excess cheese to reseal the cut edge  and wrap tightly in silicon paper before storing back in the fridge.
 
All advice was duly taken and actioned.
 
The remaining 18 grams of truffle is still keeping the eggs company; bearing in mind that with every day that passes, is another day that ‘Nugget’, loses a little of his aroma and flavour. I am sure this weekend will involve another truffle recipe, in addition to and probably including the aforementioned butter and cheese.
 
For now, I’m thinking maybe chicken breast with truffle under the skin, cooked sous vide (in my own dodgy way), browned up in the pan with some truffled butter until the skin is crispy and finished with a champagne sabayon, made with the truffled eggs… too much truffle perhaps, or is there no such thing?
 
So, what to do with the remaining truffle?