Find out more about Australian Truffle with food and drink writer, Max Brearley

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th August 2017

Max Brearley is a food and drink writer based in Western Australia, in this blog he explores Australian truffle along with former MasterChef: The Professionals chef Marianne Lumb who owns Marianne restaurant in London.

Mist shrouds the forest canopy as David Pottinger makes his may down rows of oak and hazelnut trees. Basket in hand he works the soil carefully where a truffle hunter and dog have marked out black truffle (Tuber melanosporum), ripe for harvest.

Pottinger Truffles   Credit Craig Kinder

David Pottinger

Pottinger Truffles

Credit Craig Kinder

This isn’t France or Spain, but the Southern Forests in Western Australia’s southwest. Just over three hours from Perth, the region is a food bowl with a burgeoning industry in premium products from black truffle, to finger limes and marron (a freshwater crayfish). The most prolific truffle-growing region in the southern hemisphere its harvest makes up over 70% of Australia’s annual haul. It’s a place I call home, having emigrated from London 5 years ago. In that time I’ve immersed myself in the food industry; constantly in awe of Australia’s abundance, but especially here in the Southern Forests

David Pottinger and his family have farmed in the region for decades, originally hailing from Orkney, where they farmed for generations. Their trufferie, trading under the Pottinger Truffles brand is small by some global standards, a punt that paid off, now one of the worlds most productive by acreage and renowned for quality. Exclusively sold through Wiltshire Truffles in the UK, their truffles are dug and dispatched to order, reaching chefs in London within 32 to 48 hours of harvest.

Just a few years ago Australian black truffle was more a curiosity in European restaurants, but in recent years the Australian season (early June to early September) has offered innovative chefs new opportunities. Marianne Lumb of Notting Hill’s eponymous, Marianne says: “I think it's fair to say we've been really blown away by them. I have had this dish that I wanted to try for ages. We get these amazing Hebridean scallops, super fresh from the Hebrides, and in summer baby English fennel is really lovely. I wanted to do them with truffle, but the summer truffle just didn't stand up to them and I really wanted a Perigord to go with it, but obviously they were out of season.”

Zak Frost of Wiltshire Truffles introduced Marianne to Australian truffle and she’s not looked back. Frost is the UK's leading fresh truffle supplier to high-end restaurants; three star and two star restaurants are their stock and trade. Frost has been one of the driving forces behind the take up of Australian truffle in the UK, with exclusive relationships with producers that he’s personally visited and walked their sites. A truffle hunter himself, he knows exactly what he’s looking for from a producer “quality, consistency, and great aroma.”

Marianne tells me: “We were coming to the end of the Bianchetti, the spring whites, and I was oh god what are we going to do, because I love cooking with truffle so much. Zak's always absolutely buzzing about the quality of the Australian truffles and he said there’d be a week or two to wait, from the end of the Bianchetti. It's been super exciting and I feel that we've just scratched the surface with what we're going to do with them on the menu.”

marianne lumb recipe
Marianne Lumb

Asked what has really stood out for her as a chef, Marianne is unequivocal. “It’s the freshness and consistency of the product. It's just in such good condition. Clearly it’s the fact that we get them in 32 hours; they're good for a long time, even though obviously we try and use them as fresh as possible. What's so amazing about the freshness is that we can get pretty much perfect slices out of the truffles because the Europeans unless they're spanking fresh, don’t slice as well. But these Australian one's slice so beautifully and we get them so thin and so perfect. The texture is pretty different to the Europeans.”

For Frost, he sees the fact that Australia is a relatively new market compared to Europe as a contributing factor in their success. Generations of “that‘s the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t exist with Australian producers. “Dave [Pottinger] hunts to order for me," Zak tells me. “He knows what I want before he even goes out with the dogs; so he gets it super fresh, cleans it grades it and gets it on the plane the same day or the next morning. I pick up from Heathrow, unpack and take it to the restaurant; sometimes unpacking it there with the chef.”

Such is the process that’s in place, it goes from trufferie to the plate quicker than its European equivalent in season, all in line with a timetable that suits the chef not the producer.

Using Australian truffle, Marianne tells me, has 'turned everything on its head'. It’s a sentiment that was shared by Brett Graham of The Ledbury. Interviewing him last year he told me, “you can use things like sweet corn. Girolles. Some of the amazing summer ingredients here that lend themselves very well to black truffle where traditionally you just use it in winter, with celeriac, wild deer and whatever. It’s really interesting to see how well it pairs with more traditional summer ingredients; baby root vegetables; Pheasant eggs, we have a 10-week window. Adding black truffle to a very ripe tomato.”

marianne lumb australian truffle salad

Salad of artichokes, hazelnuts,

Australian truffles and parmesan

by Marianne Lumb

Marianne is still working out the possibilities and feels that this is just the beginning for her. “When you have a product like this, that is from the other side of the world it does take a while just to kind of get into the swing of it. We've done it with linguine, which is good, but it doesn't maybe sit as right in the summer as much as it does in the winter, but we’re using them in other ways. We have a dish on at the moment, which is a petit violet artichoke salad with hazelnuts and the black truffle, that just works really beautifully. I want to do a lot more with the truffle, I want to put it with consommé and do pot au feu's with truffles; really do it justice with summery dishes.“

Again and again the question of quality and comparison is one that I’m often drawn on. Zak sits in both camps but has a view that adds up for me.

”When you compare European to Australian there’s never going to be a place you can compare like to like, fresh. So much of taste and memory is about context and the company you’re with. The weather, what you’ve drunk that day and a hundred other factors.” What he does know is that the truffles he supplies from Pottinger and others are exceptional and for some of his knowledgeable customers, the best they’ve seen from anywhere. Laughing he tells me “there's something magical about the soil at Dave’s farm; I know I’m sounding like some marketing leaflet but I think it really is.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th August 2017

Find out more about Australian Truffle with food and drink writer, Max Brearley