The biggest celebration of truffles comes to Melbourne with plenty to see and do around the gourmet fungi which can sell for thousands of dollars per kilogram. There are truffle dinners staged by some of the city's most celebrated chefs and restaurants like Bistro Vue and Chiara. More tastings by renowned French chef Philippe Mouchel, artisan products and hunts will wow some 8,000 visitors to the Truffle Melbourne event. The highlight must be the largest collection of truffles worth $300,000 consumed at Caulfield between 12 and 13 July. This festival would not be possible without the producers in Australia and also right here in our own backyard of Victoria.
Andres (L) and Lynette Haas (R)Photo courtesy of Black Cat Cottage & Truffles
One of the producers and contributors to the city's biggest truffle festival is Black Cat Cottage and Truffles. The 20 acre farm in Wattle Flat with 1,000 trees is just 90 minutes from Melbourne. In addition to participating in Truffle Melbourne, the Victorian trufferie is also offer tours, tastings and cooking classes. I caught up with the owners Andres & Lynette Haas to sniff out more about their farm and events throughout the truffle season.
What made both of you decide to cultivate truffles?
The short of it is in a moment of spontaneity (some would say stupidity) and with no farming background, we decided we could become farmers while holding down full-time jobs! The longer story is I (Andres) had seen an internet article back in 2004 about growing truffles in Tasmania that caught my fancy and contacted the grower just to explore the possibilities. Nothing came of it, although we kept in contact off and on.
Photo courtesy of Black Cat Cottage & Truffles
In 2006 we did the big family holiday to Europe with the teenage kids. A month after returning, we had such itchy feet that when the casual invite came to visit the trufferie in Tasmania, we jumped at it. That was Oct 2006 and we fell in love with the idea, even though we had never tasted truffle. By Boxing Day we had an offer in on the property at Wattle Flat.
How did you learn to grow truffles?
At that time when we started there really was only the one provider of inocculated trees unless you wanted to go into a partnership arrangement. Tim Terry from Truffles Australis gave us lots of advice (and still does) and has been fantastic in sharing his knowledge and experience. Now there are a number of tree providers and various state based information groups to help new growers.
We have 1000 trees of which 50 are inoculated with summer truffle (tuber aestivum) that fruit in Feb/March. The rest are black truffles (tuber melanosporum) which are the premium product that fruit between June to August. We seem to be producing a lot of large truffles over 300 grams. There aren't many producing trufferies in Victoria so it's hard to compare truffle quality, but even in a single trufferie there is a marked variation from early season to late season truffle. We've found that the late season truffle is so much sweeter.
The intense advertising around the festival is a huge benefit for all truffle growers in Victoria as it increases visibility and awareness, and more importantly, gets the taste of truffle out there. While there is a growing awareness through the media, we find that there is still some trepidation in committing to quite a pricey purchase for an unknown taste experience.
Why did you decide to add truffle events to your farm?
We are looking at the truffle holistically and exploring all avenues of agri-tourism. We run a B&B on the property, do truffle tours and cooking masterclasses with local chef Peter Ford. It's a long term lifestyle choice that will eventually allow us to concentrate completely on the truffle aspects without having to juggle careers as well.
What can your customers expect from your truffle tour?
We break the tour or hunt up into 3 aspects. I (Andres) give a detailed talk about our journey so far including how to set up a trufferie and how hard or easy it might be. Lynette gives a demonstration with our dog Ella on how to find truffles. We also show guests how to harvest the truffles. Then we retire to the tasting room to sample a range of truffle products such as oils, butters, soup, a brilliant truffle infused brie and ice-cream. We are still fine-tuning a pasta recipe that can be prepare in a limited time.
We did a "Picnic in the Truffle Patch" with the Melbourne Good Food and Wine festival this year and will probably do something with them again next summer along with another summer truffle hunt. We will learn from the Truffle Melbourne festival as to what works best and tweak next year's offerings.
Andres and Lynette Haas will be running a few events in July and August to help everyone understand and enjoy the earthy and aromatic delicacy. Depending on your choice of event, you can watch the truffle dogs in action, harvest truffles, sample a range of truffle infused treats, get tips on how to get the best from your truffle, enjoy a 3-course truffle themed lunch at Captains Creek Winery and a one day cooking class with local chef Peter Ford. You can book any of the events directly with Andres and Lynette. Check out the Black Cat Cottage and Truffles website or Phone 03 5334 5563 for details on the events, dates, prices and reservations.