Monday, March 18th 2013: it’s raining — drizzling, to be exact — the first substantial rain since the end of January, and we’re out in the truffle trees with Paul Thompson from POD Gardening. He’s shooting a photo essay about Limestone Hills and truffles, so Rosie does the business and sniffs out a ripe Burgundy truffle of 533 grammes (that’s the lump under her nose). It’s the largest Burgundy truffle we’ve ever harvested, beating the 529 g monster we dug up at the end of January. It’s currently being enjoyed by the patrons of Saggio di Vino in Christchurch — as was that first one. Here’s a close up:
The scar at the top was caused by my efforts to excavate the monster, but shows the hazel/chocolate-coloured flesh rather nicely. There was plenty of nice aroma — a great truffle — and further evidence of just how productive this little patch of trees seems to be. So far this year we have harvested 4.446 kg of truffles. Some was over-ripe, and will be used as inoculum to produce more Burgundy-infected trees, but the best have been wonderful. This is no second-rate truffle: it’s an affordable ($1 per gramme, as opposed to $3/g for bianchetto and Perigord black) taste of the real thing. I was quite pleased…
Paul’s full photo essay will appear at POD Gardening soon. Meanwhile, I will be out getting the other truffieres into shape for the harvest — mowing grass, felling weeds and trying to tread lightly to avoid damaging any crop. The bianchetto season looks promising — Rosie’s already found a couple of not quite ripe truffles — but I have my fingers crossed for the Perigord black. We’ve had a hot summer — good for melanosporum — and I’ve been providing plenty of water, but it will be a while before I get a feel for what might be going on. The heat has also been good for the pinot noir: there’s what looks like an excellent crop hanging in the vines, and Theo the winemaker tells me it’s tasting good. More fingers crossed…
For Christmas consumption, a Burgundy truffle of a little under 200 grammes unearthed on Christmas Eve at Limestone Hills. Not really very ripe, but it made a very nice addition to a champagne cream sauce for the enormous crayfish we enjoyed for a light lunch. Probably the first fresh Burgundy truffle to be eaten at Christmas in New Zealand. There are five more in the ground, and I’m waiting to see how long they’ll take to ripen properly — or if they do so at all. It’s supposed to be an autumn to early winter-fruiting truffle, after all. In the meantime, the compliments of the season to all.
With apologies for the long gap between posts, here’s a little music for Christmas. Mark Knopfler performs his song Get Lucky, in which the last verse is relevant. It’s not a bad song, either…
Marcel and Sherwyn at the Bell Hill vineyard near Waikari have joined the ranks of NZ’s white truffle growers, thanks to the exploratory efforts of Rosie the truffle machine. I took her over the hill yesterday for a sniff round the trees — Bell Hill have Burgundy, bianchetto and Perigord black trees, as we do at Limestone Hills. I thought the bianchetto block looked promising, with lots of rabbit interest round the trees, and after a slow start Rosie got into her stride, finding a beautiful large bianchetto close to an oak. The look on Marcel’s face is not one I shall ever forget – big grin, bright eyes, extreme pleasure writ large. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes later I was laid low by a Menières episode, but Rosie kept going with Marcel, eventually finding around 300 grammes of good truffle (see above).
I’ll be back at Bell Hill later in the week to see if their Perigord black truffle trees have also started fruiting — but I’m not guaranteeing success. Having spoken to local growers, it looks as though this is not a good season for the Perigord black — at least in Canterbury. Last summer was cool — and perhaps too cool for a good harvest. At Limestone Hills we’re well down on last year, though the remarkable productivity of out little bianchetto block, and the excitement of finding our first Burgundy truffles, including one of 330 grammes, has helped to keep our spirits high.
That big Burgundy truffle gave us an excuse to do a bit of PR with top Christchurch chef Jonny Schwass. We set up a special three truffle dinner at Schwass in a Box — Jonny’s post-earthquake mini restaurant come private dining experience, located in the corner of a furniture showroom. Here’s the menu:
- Bianchetto, Grilled Cheese & Whipped Lard
- Egg Yolk, White Polenta, Reggiano & Perigord
- Bianchetto & Smoked Lardo Risotto
- All Three Tortellini
- Quail, Parsnip & Burgundy
- Pork, Cauliflower & Bianchetto
- Potato & Perigord
- Burgundy filled Brie de Meaux
- White Chocolate & Bianchetto Zabaglione
- Salted Caramel Fondant & Burgundy Ice Cream
It was an outstanding meal and a great evening. The Burgundy truffle ice-cream was magnificent, and the sous-vide potatoes with their truffley buttery unctuousness were superb, but every course was a triumph in its own way. We’re looking forward to repeating the exercise next year in Jonny’s new restaurant, and perhaps making it an annual event.
Our truffles have also been featuring on the menu at Amberley’s excellent Nor’wester Café for the last month, and I’ve spent a couple of Saturday mornings at the Waipara Valley farmers market selling truffle. Meanwhile, Jonny has just collected a consignment of bianchetto for a lunch he’s cooking for the editors of all NZ’s food magazines this week. Small, but perfectly formed — that’s our harvest. You could say the same for Limestone Hills in almost every way.