A lunch is coming to an end. The table is cleared but shows signs of serious enjoyment. Good friends prepare to part, faces glowing from fine food, good wines. There is a closeness that sometimes sparks over a fine meal. The diners are restored.
On making their farewells one friend turns to her companion and says, “That was stunning, and I can’t quite put my finger on it but the cook has really sparked tonight.” They are puzzled, excited. The night still holds a promise. Quite often when we use truffles in dishes this scenario is played out.
The mere mention of truffles to the uninitiated stirs a mystery. As the puzzle unfolds like with all fine flavours the mystery continues, ever changing. One does not tire of it, merely adding echoes that resonate occasionally when conditions are right.
At first there is the question of what do they taste like. There is no simple answer. They taste like truffles; but it’s the character they impart to other foods that really makes them shine. I remember the first time I tasted real vanilla - fresh thick pods. Try this; take a fresh vanilla bean, block your nostrils with one hand, taste the pod - it tastes like citrus, acidic, slightly bitter sweet but not vanilla. Release your nostrils and the full flavour and aroma is released. Vanilla - interesting but linear. But wait. Poach a peach in sugar syrup, taste - fine - now add the vanilla bean, scraped seeds from the pod. Let it steep and a balanced full palate of flavours emerge. For me this is the way to use truffles.
For example, prepare a great game stock, clarified, finished. Add some freshly chopped black Perigord truffle. Let it steep. Do not over heat; cover. As with the peaches a new level of sublime complexity is reached.
Some people can pick the aroma at a great distance, others are baffled, confused, somehow cheated. Unfortunately we do not have a well defined spectrum for our sense of smell, but very light scents can trigger rich memories and strong reactions, some very physical. Scientists have identified Androstenol, a hormone in truffles. This aroma is very effective in small doses, unashamedly sexy. The perigord black winter truffle (Tuber Melsanosporum has an aroma that I would describe as extremely penetrating but not overtly strong.
The Italian winter white (Tuber Magnatum Pico) from Alba is undoubtedly stronger, perhaps that is why its often preferred, but sadly the aroma is elusive and cannot sustain heat. It has to be used raw, added at the last minute. It is earthy with echoes of baked garlic, forests - immediate, loud and magnificent.
The argument is to which is better for me does not warrant discussion. Do we compare morels, which must be cooked, to porcini, which can be eaten raw or cooked? I am very happy with either at any time.
In hushed tones......
The first truffles grown in the Otways are here, such excitement 3 kg so far, the largest harvest in Victoria as far as I know... will post more later……