“A friend of mine owns a truffle farm – do you want some truffles?“
So said the Chi Master, a good friend and former colleague that I’d worked with for about 2 years. Did I want truffles – what sort of stupid question is that? And more importantly, what’s this about a truffle farm? Two years of working together and he’d not mentioned hair nor hide of said truffle farm. Only when he’s left the building does he mention this! Outrageous. Of course I wanted truffles. And I’ll take as many as you can spare thank you very much.
Before I physically received my own precious cargo, over the course of a week, the Chi Master slowly taunted me with pictures of what he’d subjected his own truffles to. So impressed and deliriously excited was I that I asked him to write up his experience in a guest post, the first for my blog. Below is his delicious account of his truffling.
There’s something magical and slightly intriguing about the perigord truffle, something inexplicably alluring and mysterious. For me the first experience with a truffle was in the ubiquitous oil form. Over warm pizza or dripped into soups, the smell is as inviting and comforting as an old friend. It truly has to hold a special place in the sensory bank, squirrelled away to jostle shoulders with the other memories of simmering stew or baked bread. But my first encounter with the actual fungi was in Florence, with one of the best steaks I’ve ever put knife to (and that’s a lot of steaks). The steak was liberally baptised with Tuscan olive oil, simply seasoned with salt and pepper then buried under an avalanche of truffle slices. The truffles had a fine striation of white lines I can only describe as brain like. The flavor however, was incomparable to the artificial oil. Ozoney, earthy, soily, ‘shroomy, mouth filling and perfumed were probably the most apt descriptions.
I knew I was hooked.
A few months ago during a bitterly cold and wet winter, I was perusing Facebook when I came across some intriguing pictures. A friend of mine was nose deep in dirt, scrabbling around the scrawniest, whippiest tree you could find and unearthing mounds of incredible black nuggets piled high atop each other. He had pictures of freshly unearthed truffles, freshly cleaned truffles, freshly sliced truffles and a grin wider than Garfield. I suppose it’s not every day that you discover someone you’ve known for years is affiliated with a truffle farm. Then again, if I had one I’d probably keep quiet about it too. I suppose I can thank social networking for leading me to the fortuitous exchange that found me with 2 perigords in my possession.
Like a clandestine drug mule, I watched my friend drive up discreetly in front of my office. With a wry smile, he ushered me to a small esky where several small plastic airtight pouches were within. My senses were doing their best to cope with the aroma onslaught. It was like opening a fresh can of tennis balls, like the smell of freshly lain carpet or the sweet smell of day old paint. The smell was quite unlike anything, both unreal and real at the same time – like someone had dumped a mound of dirt and porcinis either side of me. I know some will question the validity of my descriptions but I know others will be nodding sagely in agreement.
Once I’d received my precious cargo from my truffle pusher it was time to get to work and the first act began with storage. Truffles have the very strangest properties – on the exterior they have a fine knobbly hide, not unlike some kind of Galapagos reptile, yet the inside is both hard yet fragile, grated with the lightest of touches.
Opening the packets in my apartment flooded the entire room with the rich scent. I was adequately prepared as the perfume is strongest when fresh. One I stored in an air-tight glass jar with half a dozen eggs. The other received the same treatment with carnaroli rice as a companion. Here they remained for a few days until my master plan bore fruition. Now those of you familiar with truffles will be familiar with how prohibitively expensive they are. Even from an inside source, you will be amazed how little by weight your hard earned cash buys you. That being said, what I was about to do with my truffles would be more priceless then anyone could ever imagine as it would not only ensure a weekend of gourmet satisfaction, but a lifetime of peace and quiet.
I gave a truffle to my mother-in-law.
No diamonds, gold or jewelry could have impressed my mother-in-law more then this knobbly mound of black gold. I am simply referred to as “the golden child” now (much to my wife’s disgust). Then an epicurean adventure ensued, one that fully exploited each and every precious gram of my truffle.
The first course was simple scrambled eggs. On their own, the eggs that had been stored with the truffle were already abundant with incredible flavor. Further gratings of truffle were pure decadence. Adding a touch of cream in the eggs and serving it with sourdough resulted in one of the most simple yet refined dishes I’ve ever eaten. Each forkful delivers a truffle bomb through the sinuses. It was incredibly sinful and over the top – especially as when at home you don’t have to be stingy with the truffle!
The remains had other fates. My truffle pusher had informed me that the flavour and smell is best transmitted through fat. Anything with high fat content forms a perfect means of capturing the perfume. This is the same reason for storing them with eggs and rice as the scent permeates the shell of the egg and the grains of the rice.
Thus, the second stage involved an earlier trip to Formaggio Occello in Surry Hills. Here a beautiful brie and French d’affinois would be the perfect carriers for the truffle flavours. I took time to chill each down then sliced them in half horizontally. I then layered truffle slices to make essentially a haute cheese sandwich. Enjoyed a few days later at room temperature the flavor was sublime. The cheese forms the perfect party friend for the truffle, enhancing the richness and butteryness in both. Some specialty cheeses come with truffle in them, but nothing compares to making your own!
The final use was for long term investment. I bought 2 beautiful sticks of Myrtleford cultured butter. Cultured butter is the most amazing product with the funkiest cheesy smell and a taste somewhere between goat’s cheese and normal butter. After warming to room temperature I grated in a generous amount of truffle in and formed them into little logs. I was instructed to keep these in the freezer as they will last up to a year. It was a perfect way of preserving the gourmet memory. With this I sent my truffle experience off in farmyard style. I procured an excellent free range chook and gently parted its skin from breast. In these pockets I placed two overly large knobs of truffle butter. With a liberal seasoning and rub down I placed the chook in the oven for a nice roasting. Underneath I placed parboiled King Edward potatoes, carrots and kumera. What came out of the oven was the penultimate. This chicken was in another echelon. The skin was perfectly golden, blistered slightly and sticky around the thighs. An 09 Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay just put the cream and cherry on top. In fact the whole lot was so incredibly good, I completely forgot to take a picture.
Of course things are always more fun when people are along for the ride, so I passed along an ample supply to The Gourmet Forager in high anticipation of reading her tinkerings with them. And even as I type this I can remember that heady scent already – did I mention I still have 3 more logs of truffle butter?
A few shared learnings:
- Fresh truffles should be kept in the fridge in a glass container. Plastic absorbs smells and it is not uncommon to have the smell lingering in your fridge for weeks.
- Fresh truffles will come uncleaned. As they are used raw they need to be scrubbed with a new toothbrush under cold tap water just before use.
- Fresh truffles should be used fresh! Maximum shelf life is 2 weeks refrigerated but the perfume is finite and is already disappearing when it is unearthed.
- Fresh truffles do not make good truffle oil. Truffle oil is made artificially. Fresh truffles will go rancid quite quickly in oil.
- Truffles can be sliced with a specialty slicer but they are quite hard to track down. A microplane does the same trick or a very sharp paring knife and steady hands
So following in the wisened footsteps of the Chi Master, I decided I would largely follow his lead and use his experiences to inspire my own truffle extravangaza feast. Early one wintery morning, we met in a small alleyway shadowed by tall buildings and slipped into a nondescript cafe for the transaction. There he unveiled his cargo – 4 sealed bags containing 5 tissue wrapped A grade truffles, their heady scent escaping the bags and violently perfuming the air we breathed.
As soon as I could, I too stored my truffles in a glass jar filled with carnaroli rice with grand plans for a future risotto. They were not all destined for my belly, two smaller ones totalling 48g I intended to keep for myself, another two had grateful buyers and a smaller bow wrapped jar housed the final truffle sitting aplomb atop a mound of carnaroli – a surprise birthday gift for my unsuspecting best friend, L-bean.
After a few days of perfuming, I took out my truffles in their raw state and set to work cleaning and grating them. And as the Chi Master had beautifully described them, I too found them to be like strange tough little Galapagos dumplings yet surprisingly yielding to the the gentlest pressure. Dark mottled snowflakes fell as I grated them away.
With these truffle snowflakes I made truffle honey, decanting a small amount of honey into a jar and spooning a liberal amount of shaved truffle in.
Employing a sharp knife I slivered wafer thin slices for a wedge of oozing ripe truffled brie.
And save for a few reserved slices, the rest of my treasure I grated for truffled butter as this seemed like the best way to extend the precious life and use of my truffle. The process of making truffle butter is simple: take one stick of exquisite rich French butter warmed to room temperature, shave an obscene amount of truffle into it, fashion into fat little logs whilst concocting drool worthy recipes to use it.
So with a relatively small amount of truffle, I created an impressive array of generously truffled goods.
On their own, the honey, the risotto, the cheese and the butter were satisfying – but to truly impress, we converted these items into ingredients for a DIY three course truffle feast, and a convenient excuse to celebrate the L-bean’s birthday. Truffle feasts are a dime a dozen in restaurants come winter time but they come at exorbitant prices. Procure your own truffle and you’d be surprised how simple and cost effective it can be created at home. Sure, my truffle feast was pretty rustic, as befitting the humble origins of the truffle, and didn’t have fancy deconstructed scampi loins or the like – but there’s no reason yours couldn’t!
For the entree we made bresaola with rocket, grated Parmesan, grated lemon and sliced truffle all lubricated with a touch of truffle oil.
The main we made was one I was personally very excited about. We planned to make a baked mushroom risotto, one that the Co-pilot’s dad makes regularly and is a family favourite, but this time, we made it with some precious dried wild mushrooms I’d managed to procure – amazing morels (the honeycombed looking ones in the picture below), chanterelles (the tan coloured ones) and black trumpet mushrooms. The black trumpet mushrooms were new to me and seemed custom designed for a marriage with cheese – amazingly, the smell of these mushrooms was exactly the smell you get from a finished baked mushroom risotto and promised wonders. The smell of our apartment as we made this dish was indescribably good. L-bean arrived at our apartment as it was cooking and practically clawed at my door to get in!
Simply soak the mushrooms (you can substitute porcini for the wild mushrooms, which is what the original recipe calls for); sweat onions and chopped button mushrooms in butter; add the rehydrated mushrooms and risotto rice and importantly, a generous amount of truffle butter. Stir well, add the reserved mushroom stock and bake. Finish with both grated and slivers of Parmesan and for that added touch of decadence, slivers of truffle to garnish.
The brie we’d marinated with truffle earlier formed part of my cheese platter for dessert. Accompanying it was a strong bitey blue which we served with the truffle honey. The truffled brie was amazing – ripe, unctuous and devoured greedily whereas the sweet earthiness of the honey tempered the powerful pong of the blue cheese nicely.
And though that was the end of my three course truffle feast that night, we’ve since led a truffle rich lifestyle and had many more truffle feasts. Amongst other things, the L-bean converted her gifted truffle into a truffled spatchcock roast with generous slivers of truffle tucked liberally under the skin.
And drawing on inspiration from my local deli, P.R. Raineri, we also created a three cheese truffled pasta chock full of asiago, grated Grana Padano, an entire wedge of truffle pecorino and of course, a log of truffle butter. Not the healthiest of meals I must admit, but goodness it was tasty and worth the sacrifice in svelte waistlines.
Now even after all that feasting, like the Chi Master, I still have three, three, precious logs of frozen truffle butter left, begging to be released from their cryogenic prison and transformed into an indulgent meal worth writing home about – or at least, blogging about!
Inspired to make your own truffle feast? Well, if you don’t have a friend-of-a-friend-who-owns-a-truffle-farm, then seek out Lowes Mount Truffiere, where we sourced our truffles from. During winter these guys have a stall at the Growers Markets on the first Saturday of each month in Pyrmont in front of Star City. By now, with winter over and the warm weather returning, the fresh truffle season should have come to a close but there’s always next year.
And if you’re keen to learn more about truffles including history, uses, the Australian truffle market and more, click over to my previous post on truffle foraging here.
The truffles used in this post were paid for by The Gourmet Forager. Big thanks to the Chi Master for his guest post contribution!