For most people, the word truffle evokes ideas of fine dining, executive chefs and French delicacies you can’t even pronounce. But there is another, lesser-experienced, side to truffles and it involves chilly winter days, mud, dirt and lots of dog hair.
Traditionally the truffle foragers were aided by pigs, whose greedy appetite would direct them straight to the hidden black gems, however in Australia it is more common to use dogs. The dogs’ role in the search for truffles does not go undervalued and amongst the hazelnut and oak trees in a truffiere paddock on Sunday 19 June, the truffle season commenced with the traditional ‘Blessing of the Dogs’ ceremony.
Locals, chefs, truffle farmers and last but not least, their truffle dogs, all came together one misty morning at Tarago Truffles – a mere 50 minutes from Canberra just near Bungendore. We huddled excitedly together, warming our hands around crackling fires in large rusty drums and sipping on hot chocolate, while the dogs barked impatiently to go out on the hunt.
Once everyone had arrived we traipsed, adults, children and dogs alike, to the truffiere – a paddock with rows of mostly hazelnut and oak trees that have been inoculated with the black truffle fungus. It was there, amongst a cacophony of singing birds, barking dogs and buzzing chit-chat that Reverend Tom Frame, of Goulburn Mulwaree Anglican Parish, celebrated and blessed the dogs and opened the truffle season.
We were off, following closely on the heels of the frenzied hounds. When the coveted moment occurred that a dog had identified a truffle, truffle experts needed to determine whether or not they were ripe… it was now our turn to sniff the dirt!
The pungent smell of a ripe truffle is and intricate blend of earth, musk and honey, and by sniffing the earth around the truffle, experts with a discerning nose can detect whether or not the buried treasure is ready to be harvested, or need to be left to ripen. Cold mornings are a truffle’s best friend, as they require approximately seven frosty mornings to reach ripeness.
Once the truffle kerfuffle was over, the party returned to the crackling fires and marquee for lunch. We were welcomed back by the warming aroma of cauliflower, pecorino and truffle soup, which Andrew from 3 Seeds had bubbling away on his portable stovetop.
Friends were made as we chatted truffles, dunked truffle-buttered toasts and sipped Lerida Estate Chardonnay or Pinot Noir while the mist descended and it started to drizzle. Cosy underneath our marquee, we then devoured decadent mushroom pies – a rich filling of mushroom and truffle encased in meltingly-buttery pastry that crunched and left flakes on your lips with every bite.
Lunch was rounded off with a truffle inspired dessert. A surprising combination, the sticky date pudding with truffle-caramel sauce demonstrated just how versatile the truffle could be. It was so inspiring I have since booked myself into a truffle cooking class!
To finish off the day there was one further shenanigan – the auction of a truffle! Bids were made and a cooking class thrown in, and the truffle was sold for over $200. It was a lovely way to finish off the event with all proceeds going to the Goulburn Mulwaree Anglican Parish.
With our bellies full, our clothes smelling of smoke and the taste of truffle lingering on our tongues, it was time to begin the drive back home to Canberra. From now on when I hear the word ‘truffle’ I’ll think of how lucky we are to have such an impassioned community where, over food and dogs, knowledge can be shared and friendships can be made.