Attempting any kind of review of the month and a half that the Truffle Festival covers, with around twenty different partners all doing their own events, means that this kind of sum-up comes down to a just ‘what I got to see and taste’ report. It’s pretty much my voice here, that’s me, Fred (Wayne Haslam is the other Festival organiser and our story is here) so you can dismiss it as personal opinion. Or better yet, hop onto Facebook and disagree and tell us what you did and what you ate this year that was great.
From where I sit, with all the video, images and PDF bits in a computer folder that says 2011 (there’s 2009 and 2010 folders too which we rat around in) it was the first Festival year that has really demonstrated how our local truffle industry, and the restaurants who serve that magic black regional produce, have matured. In 2011 we had Events Assistance Funding from the ACT Government and that let us do a lot of things we hadn’t been able to before. The money was limited to promotion and advertising and we had to match it with our own funds but if 2011 was the first year you’d heard of the Festival, that extra promotion money will be why. We had weekly ads in the Canberra Times Food & Wine section and a regular small space ad in the SMH Good Living (see them below). In 2012, we’re letting the threesides team handle the promotions, which will mean that you’ll get to hear even more about what has become the prestige food and wine event in the Canberra region’s culinary calendar.
And that’s not just the personal opinion of one avid ‘truffle groupie’. Have a look at this collection of links to Festival blogs and videos and decide for yourself.
Canberra & Capital Region Truffle Festival
In 2011 we had enough local truffle to keep everyone supplied, but didn’t always make the right connections with the growers. Some big events needed to be sure about guaranteed supply and so they ordered bulk quantities from Tasmania or Western Australia. In 2012 , we’ve been promised better co-ordination of growers and restaurants and we’ll be able to be 100% local.That after all is the premise of our Festival.
Fresh, locally grown black truffle served by our local chefs.
Someone suggested that the finding of the first truffle of the season could be as widely publicised as that European symbol of spring, the swallow. “Promote it in the local and Sydney papers” they said, “auction off the first big one”. Well, the first big one this year was this, from Terra Preta, the Marshall’s truffiere in Braidwood. It was huge, and very ugly. This first truffles are also not as black inside or as strong in aroma as those from later in the season so maybe we should auction off the last truffle given that it heralds the end of the pleasures we’ve enjoyed.
More than a mouthful
At the other end of the season, on our last hunt to Tarago Truffles, Denzil and Anne Sturgis found this truffle, almost as big, late season and a really first grade one. That took their total harvest over 100kg and in the next two weeks they found more, to a total of 130kg. Not all of them were high quality but they were very happy with the result. And our ‘hunters’ who went on one of our trips to Tarago, were just as excited to see so many and to be able to help dig them up. See our Hunts story below for details of our growing number of almost hands-on hunts.
The miracle of lost truffles
While I was filming at Le Tres Bon, I learnt that Saint Anthony (it’s Saint Antonio in Italian) is the patron saint of truffles. He’s officially the Saint In Charge of Lost Things because that bible The Child is sitting on was valuable and lost, and he prayed for its return and the monk who nicked it brought it back. A miracle, and it fast tracked him to Sainthood when he died. If you lose your car keys apparently you can pray to him for their return. Christophe explains that it works for truffles in this short clip on YouTube.
These were a huge success and a focus of a lot of visitor attention. But it may just have been because I spent a lot of my time looking after them that I think that. Answering emails, sending invoices when our automatic booking system crashed and trying to keep everyone happy by juggling extra hunts. The hunts are part of our ‘truffle education’ agenda. We figure that you’ll enjoy what you’re eating more, and understand why they’re so special (and cost what they do) if you’ve tramped around a truffiere (that’s the French name for a Truffle orchard) in rain/frost/wind and even snow. The growers have to do it but our visitors seem just as excited when the dog finds a first truffle of the day.
Your entry fee pays for the bus that takes you to and from the farm, and we throw in a coffee and cake to get you started as we check off your names. It pays the growers for the costs of the dog and ‘hunter who has to take time out from serious hunting, to talk to you and show you how they do it . It also covers the cost of someone to get you safely on and off the bus, and talk to you about truffles while we bounce along our country roads. We don’t allow people to bring their cars onto the properties for security and bio-security reasons, unless there is a special request such as for an aged or a disabled person. (And as the hunts are in grassy paddocks, we are sorry but they are unsuitable for wheel chairs, and you’ll need to be able to walk.) At the end of the hunt there is the opportunity to buy some truffle, and maybe even the ones you found (if they are good and can be cleaned in time). Most of the growers have value-added produce for sale like truffle infused eggs (a jar with a small piece of truffle and some free-range eggs which absorb the truffle aromas through their shell).
You can never make things clear enough it seems, but even with all the details and a booking form online, we were always ready to answer emails like this one - “How much for the truffle hunt and do I need to book ahead? Also can I bring my puppy (who’s really a dog)?”
This year the booking system should allow you to change your hunt date, add more friends if there is room and even get a refund if you can’t go because your puppy (who’s really a dog) is sick. Just remember that the truffle growers insist that we keep groups small. That’s so they can watch you if you walk too close to the trees, damage any exposed truffles, and so YOU can get close and personal with a lump of dirt. One that smells amazing.
We have always allowed children to attend free, because we want them to carry on the truffle knowledge and so far no-one has abused that. If suddenly there were a large number of non-paying bookings we’d have to modify that ‘free’ and we reserve the right to hold your booking and contact you if the number of children dramatically exceeds the paying adults. Oh, and no dogs, ferrets or wombats.
Just add a dog
The truffle hunting dogs have always been a big hit on our hunts, and we’ve always mentioned them in our newsletters and blog. When we set up the Truffle Hunt page on the website, we had just the details and few photographs. As soon as I put up the picture of Sherry McArdle-English and her dog Snuffles, the hunts at her truffiere at Mt Majura booked out. I then added pictures of Anne and Denzil with their dog Tom, and the hunts at Gap Hills booked out. Overnight. I was a bit reluctant to add Damian Robinson’s dog Three Spot because we already had a big booking. We had to organise a bigger bus. Dog powered promotion!
It’s exciting to watch the smaller truffle growers in the region start finding truffles as their trees mature. We especially like it when they come to us and ask to be part of the Festival. More farms, more hunts mean that we can share the experiences around with you. We suggest that they try just one hunt, and see how they cope, and last year Damian Robinson at Turalla Truffles in Bungendore did just that.
The video shows what fun it was. Watch the video, read the blog entry here.
The Canberra region is blessed with good regional restaurants, so much so that we sometimes take them for granted, and if they have been partners in previous festivals we just expect they’ll take part again in sharing the truffle-love around. Grazing at Gundaroo, Lambert Vineyards (blog & video), Le Tres Bon (video), Lerida, Crisps Lane Cafe all took part again with at least one regular truffle dish on their menus and with special dinners. But there are still places that are even closer to good supplies of fresh truffle, who have been cautious about being involved. So last year we took a couple under our wing and although it wasn’t always smoothly planned dining (our fault mostly), the food was great and we’re very grateful for their particpation (and they’ve said they’ll certainly be part of the Festival this year). That encouraged us to approach restaurants and cafes further afield, so keep an eye on that favourite country pub or restaurant near you in 2012.
Truffle Country? Yee Haw!
Sorry for that outburst, that was left over from the Bungendore Rodeo, another prime event on our local calendar (the food there is take-away-dull however). Our city restaurants are terrific and and there are a handful of country winery restaurant venues that serve truffle but in 2012, we want to get visitors out into our towns and villages.
Pubs, cafes and bakeries, and even the food cart at the footy are all targets for getting the truffle message out that we have a great fresh local product and you need to try it.
We need it. You gave it. Sometimes it’s hard to accept criticism but we’re on a mission to prove that this region is THE place in Australia to enjoy fresh local truffles in season. To do that you, as a diner, have to get the true Truffle Experience. It starts with the wait staff to be able to explain more about truffles, other dishes they have and even where the truflles came from. There has to be enough truffle on the plate so you immediately know what its flavour is. There are still some meals where we know there is truffle in the dish, but it’s so slight that a newcomer to truffle dining will go ‘Ho-hum, what is the fuss about”. We are obviously trying to promote all our Festival partners equally which means that we’re avoid being critical. But that doesn’t stop you, so we set up the Rate your Truffle Experience page on our website. We added it a bit late in 2011, but we encourage you to participate and contribute in 2012. Tell us about the meal and if it helped you to learn about our local black truffles.
We also did a short survey at some venues. We asked...
- 1) Did you come to this venue just for the Truffle Festival? Because it was handed out at restaurants and truffle hunts we did get a good response from the visitors, while the locals were not as responsive or their answers as relevant since they didn’t ‘come’, they live here. But the final figure came down to over half the people attending saying they came because of the Festival promotion. The mix of visitors to locals was 63% (mostly Sydney) visitors to 37% locals and from the region.
- 2) Did you get a true Truffle Experience? While a few of you said the staff didn’t know what they were serving, the result was that 90% were fully satisfied. That surprised us a bit but then we’re becoming heavy truffle junkies, and expect more.
- 3) Can we do better? Of course. Most of the dissatisfaction came from people not being able to book packages; accomodation, a hunt, a cooking class and a dinner or lunch. We know that is a great idea, so in 2012 we’re getting the packages together and doing it earlier so you can plan with friends. Watch the website.
- 4) Will you come again next year? Everyone said yes. Well, one person grumbled about the bus that never arrived, when we had to ask everyone to drive (to the truffiere ten minutes away). We can handle that, we gave him a Silo truffle butter-ball. So does that mean we did ok?
How our chefs cooked up that mid-winter magic.
The Menu at Le Tres Bon
Christophe and his wife Josephine starred in our promo video for 2011. Here he takes us through the truffle menu options. Some people just tried one dish, others started at the soup and worked through to the truffle desert. (Video)
Chef Paolo Milanesi is a Scot. Of course I’m kidding. Italian to the core, he knows how to serve up truffle and the Locanda restaurant at the Rydges Lakeside was always popular. (Video)
Chef Chris Whitlock whose dinner is featured here, has moved (to Hawaii where there sure ain’t no truffles!). The new chef is Daniel Flatt ex-Ginger Room. (Video)
Chef Christian Haupberg’s Monday night truffle degustations have becoming a highlight fixture of each Festival. You won’t leave after this dinner saying you don’t understand the fuss about truffles. (Video)
Lark Hill Vineyard restaurant is perfectly placed for lunch after the Bungendore and Sutton hunts. They had a truffle dish on the menu each weekend and a special truffle lunch or two.
Silo’s master baker and pastrycook Leanne Gray swore she was going to have truffles to eat everyday this season, I don’t know if that happened but the restaurant had some great truffle dishes. (Video)
Festival highlights: shall we make a list?
- 1) Best Dish of 2011? For me, it was Christian Hauberg’s white polenta with shaved truffle. So simple, served after a cold entree at the beginning of the meal, the warmth of the polenta released the truffle aroma wonderfully, and didn’t want to fight it for flavour. The other dish was the one that James Kidman cooked for our promo video. I turned up with an early Terra Pretta truffle, weeks ahead of the launch. It was a little pale and not that strong. James’ response was to just use more of it on his plate of pasta, shaved aged parmesan and wild asparagus with a raw egg on top. After the photo, we all grabbed a fork. It was for me, the first taste of truffle for 2011 and it brought the pleasure of last season’s memories back in a rush. Truffle groupies always remember things like that.
- 2) How much truffle is enough? We believe that a cooking class (where you all get to eat the results) is the best way to feel comfortable with cooking with truffles at home. You learn how much to use in a dish and realise that it’s simple to use. Three Seeds truffle cooking classes with Andrew Haskins were booked out as fast as the truffle hunts. Tom Moore (from Knead Patisserie) was also a big hit at a session at Cooking Co-ordinates. There were cooking demonstrations at the Canberra and Region Farmer’s Market again.
- 3) Want something unique? Pankhurst Wines in Hall (see video) had a tasting plate that included a couple of slices of a rolled soft bread with truffle inside made by Neil Abrahms , the Wig and Pen brewery again served a truffle infused ale. It has become awinter fixture at the bar. And at the end of Lamberts’ Black Diamond Dinners, guests were given a truffle flavoured macaroon from Canberra’s Dream Cuisine patisserie (see blog).
- 4) Truffles not to be forgotten. We invited our favourite cookery writer Jill Dupleix and Sue Bennett – editor of SMH Good Living to share some truffle with us at Alex Herbert’s Bird Cow Fish restaurant to tell them about the Festival. Alex cooked up some lovely dishes (see the blog here). The dinner at Dieci e Mezzo with some of our favourite chefs in the kitchen was very, very good. Apparently there was chaos backstage with the three chefs stepping over each other in the kitchen but it didn’t show (see the blog). And there were a number of great private truffle dinners, at home and with friends (thanks to Lainie Haslam, Michael and Elizabeth Croft,) … Oh, this has to stop somewhere.
Again I urge you to share your experiences on our Facebook page. We’ve settled into advance preparations for the 2012 Festival, and as I type this in April, the first truffle of the season has again been found at Braidwood. So we hope that the season will be another good one. We’ve had a lot of summer rain but there hasn’t been as much sun. Truffles need warmth in their growing season of summer. This only makes it more exciting when the first truffles become available, they’re a natural product and still unpredictable even if we know which paddock to hunt for them in. They really are mid-winter magic, (thank you Saint Anthony.)
Our Truffle Festival Sponsors were
Braidwood’s Terra Preta Truffles is one of the region’s most prolific suppliers. Holding to organic principles, their truffles are getting rave reviews from big city chefs. Contact (02) 48461070
Grey Advertising have provided us with logo design, production of our festival brochures and posters. They have also offered advertising advice and media placement. Thank you. Contact Warren Apps on 02 6124 5400.
French Black Truffles of Canberra is the only truffiere in the ACT! They supply black truffles in season through selected outlets.Contact Sherry and Gavin McArdle-English, Mobile 0419 950 207.
And Blue Frog Truffles is just outside the ACT border in Sutton. They supply black truffles in season to restaurants and the public. Contact Wayne Haslam, Mobile 0403242454.
And a big pat on the head for ourselves. Jan O’Connell and Fred Harden are <thinktag>. They provided all the video production, created the Festival website, took the photographs and did all the copywriting. Because that’s what they do. You to can apply <thinktag> Creative Services to your next web promotion. Contact 02 6238 0020.
Our Festival aims.
With thirty growers in the region and a climate close to the European truffle growing areas of Spain, France and Italy, Canberra and the Capital Region has the potential to be a premier truffle growing area in Australia. So we think it’s time to celebrate that, with a Festival to introduce you to the mystery and magic of truffles. What makes our Truffle Festival unique is the closeness of the growers to a range of places where you can eat them, from cafés to fine dining restaurants. You can go on a truffle hunt and ten minutes later be sitting down to taste the mid-winter magic of black truffles. Or go to the Farmers’ Market growers stall on a Saturday morning and be home with some freshly dug truffles for lunch.
In the accelerated process of introducing farmed truffles, unlike in Europe, we’ve skipped the thousands of years of appreciation and any culture of using them in our cuisine. Most people don’t know that fresh black truffle are nothing like the ubiquitous truffle oil (which is a synthetic chemical flavouring). Or that they have a natural glutamate that enhances the flavours of almost everything they’re added to. We don’t appreciate that once dug up they only stay fresh for a week or so, so eating them locally ensures the best flavour.
That calls for an education process, best done we believe by encouraging our local chefs to use them on their winter menus, from modest cafés to grand degustation dinners. We also need to have cooking demonstrations and tastings so people can experience their magic, and not be frightened to try cooking with them at home. They also need to be able to go on truffle hunts and learn how the truffles grow and are harvested.
As you’ll see from the wrap-up above, in the last three years our Festival has gone a long way to achieving these aims. This year’s festival will continue that work, so come and be part of it.