They’re elusive (and expensive) and only in season for about three months of the year, but Chief Minister Andrew Barr credits Tuber melanosporum, better known as black winter truffle, with helping put the ACT food and wine scene on the map.
Launching the Canberra Region Truffle Festival this week, Mr Barr told attendees that the event, now in its 13th year, had been “amazingly successful” in helping draw tourists to the region in winter, a traditionally difficult time for local operators.
“I was looking at some research done 12 or 13 years ago into the Canberra District and the top concern at that time from tourists was that there was not a quality food and wine offering in this region,” Mr Barr said.
“Perceptions have changed considerably since then. The truffle festival plays an important part in this. It reflects the distinct, year-round offering we have. Here’s hoping tourists will come this year from Sydney and Melbourne, and now on those cheap flights from Brisbane.”
After the tribulations of the past 18 months, the good news for local truffle farmers is that the edible black nuggets have been coming out of the ground early and look to be in bountiful supply this year, says Canberra Region Truffle Festival Association’s Dick Groot Obbink, a microbiologist who has owned Durran Durra truffle farm near Braidwood with his wife Virginia for the past 16 years.
“Canberra is the only capital in the world where truffles are grown within its precinct and on the periphery … where they can be harvested and on restaurant tables or in home kitchens within one or two hours. They’re a magnet for tourists in winter,” he says.
So much of a magnet, says Wayne Haslam, who owns Blue Frog Truffles in Sutton, that truffle hunts quickly sell out every year.
“There are some incredible hunts available and they’re widely spread from Braidwood to Bredbo. But they’re so popular they get booked up almost immediately,” says Wayne.
Those who miss out on truffle hunting tours can still get a whiff of the action, with many local restaurants hosting truffle themed events, lunches and dinners between now and August during the festival.
At Verity Lane Markets in the Sydney Building, Truffle Week will be held from 13 to 17 July. Each vendor will put on their menu a special dish featuring fresh winter truffles. Verity Lane Markets executive chef Gerald Ong said truffle ramen and pizzas and steamed egg custard with XO and truffles were just a few of the dishes aimed squarely at truffle enthusiasts.
On 16 and 17 July, a truffle grower pop-up shop at Verity Lane will allow visitors to buy fresh truffles directly. There will also be a truffle dinner at Dear Prudence on 13 July where diners will meet Turalla Truffle grower Damian Robinson while eating a truffle-focused menu.
Christophe Gregoire from Le Tres Bon in Bungendore, who harvested his first truffle as early as May, has a variety of truffle-infused events planned, from a Truffle Soiree dinner with French Champagne this Friday (25 June) to truffle cooking class using truffles harvested from his own farm.
The 17 July class will see guests learning how to make a dessert featuring fresh truffles, snow eggs and meringue floating islands, followed by a two-course lunch.
For those who like to match their truffles with a few cool-climate wines, the Canberra Wine District Fireside Festival launches earlier this year to coincide with the truffle festival. The month-long wine event, which kicks off on 16 July, includes cellar door events, tastings, wine dinners, trivia nights and more – many of them accompanied by a roaring open fire.
Visit the Canberra Region Truffle Festival for more information about events during the festival. Follow @veritylanemarket for updates on truffle events and book through Verity Lane Market. Visit the Le Tres Bon to book truffle dinners and classes. Visit the Canberra Wine District to find events being held during the Fireside Festival.