June 05

One last blog from that busy Queen's Birthday weekend: a picture of a truffle in the ground at the North Canterbury truffiere visited by the NZTA tour.

It wasn't fully ripe at the time, but has recently been harvested. If only they were so obvious at my place... (Still no sign of truffles at the Hills. Peg had a good sniff round yesterday, but didn't show any interest. Fingers still firmly crossed.)

We harvested all our olives on June 18th. Lovely warm day. Total of 18kg of fruit, well up on the handful of the year before, but well down on the 50kg I was expecting. The birds - despite some noisy bird-scaring gear - had obviously been busy. I took the fruit to Athena Olives in Waipara, to be thrown into the pot. No Limestone Hills oil this year, but unless we have some sort of climatic disaster in the coming year, I'm confident we'll have some next winter. Next on the olive grove task list: pruning and fertilising. I'll do some light pruning at the end of July, and give each tree a feed in August.

Google is a wonderful thing, not least because if you search it for information about "ontological transformation", On The Farm is the top ranking web site. A while ago I blogged an article about diets. And I therefore rank above the article in the London Review Of Books that I originally linked to. Digital voodoo. Luckily, I know what ontological transformation means.

Over the years, Antonio Carluccio has had a large part to play in the development of our family cuisine. When Camille I were first married, and it became apparent that if I wanted to eat something other than takeaways I'd have to do the cooking, the first cookbook we bought was Antonio's An Introduction To Italian Cooking. It fired me with an enthusiasm for Italian food and by some strange osmosis his evident love for finding and eating wild mushrooms worked its way into my system.

A couple of years ago, Antonio was the star guest at a local foodie masterclass weekend (Savour New Zealand), and visited Limestone Hills. He cooked porcini in our kitchen:

I had a chance to blame him for my current lifestyle - and get him to sign that tattered old cookbook. He took it all with good grace, and had a good time - one abiding memory is Antonio and pinot guru Danny Schuster sitting in the sun telling each other an endless stream of filthy jokes.

A few weeks ago I rather cheekily emailed Antonio and asked if he'd be willing to contribute a foreword for The Truffle Book - and he said yes. I have the text sitting in my computer ready to go. His only stipulation? That I send him my first truffle.

With pleasure Antonio. It's all yours. And if I could hand deliver it and enjoy a meal at Neal Street, I'd love to… All I have to do is find it.

It was only one, but it made Professor Wang Yun a happy man. After Peg had done her stuff in Hagley Park, the NZTA conference attendees jumped on a bus for a visit to a productive truffiere in North Canterbury, and then on to Limestone Hills. Wang was on the tour, but instead of joining everyone in the truffiere, he headed off to the little patch of Pinus radiata infected with Lactarius deliciosus that I planted as part of a trial three or four years ago. Mine was the only plantation that had not produced, so Wang was interested to have a look and see how things were going. And this is what he found…

A perfect little saffron milk cap, all on its own in North Canterbury.

Why mine was so slow to produce is something of a mystery. It is probably down to the fact that I used glyphosate to keep the young radiata plants free of weeds. This fruiting body was down in a little rabbit scrape, barely sticking its cap above ground level. Next year, the mycelium should have fully recovered, and as the trees have been growing vigourously (they have irrigation) I hope to get a much more substantial harvest..

Wang's the man behind the introduction of saffron milk cap to New Zealand. The mushroom is commonly sold in European markets, and as the Latin name suggests, is highly regarded as a culinary mushroom. In Australia, where the fungus was accidentally introduced in pine plantations (especially in Victoria and New South Wales), there is a thriving local market supplying restaurants. Market price is usually around $50/kg. Wang's idea is that if foresters planted trees infected with mushrooms, they would benefit from an income stream while waiting for the timber to mature. In fact, it's possible that the mushrooms could be worth more than the wood.

At Limestone Hills, our aim is much more modest. I just want to grow enough to be able to have some good feeds every year. I cooked the one in the picture, sliced, in a little butter. It lived up to its name.

The second annual NZ Truffle Association truffle dog championships were held in Hagley Park, Christchurch, on the Sunday morning of Queen's Birthday weekend. And Peg won again. It was not a fix. She did it in front of TV cameras from TV One, and if I could work out how to grab the section from the DVD recording and drop it down in size, I'd host the segment from the evening news here. But I haven't got time to fiddle with that, so I won't. She is, however, still a star - even if she hasn't yet found a truffle at the Hills.

The Queen (Elizabeth 2nd of Great Britain) is a lucky woman: she has several birthdays. In NZ, her official birthday is celebrated with a holiday on a Monday in early June. Australia also celebrates Queen's Birthday, but a week after NZ, which is when Britain does it (I think). And then she has a real birthday too, when Charles and Camilla probably turn up with a box of chocolates and some cool new music for Liz's iPod. Queen's Birthday weekend is when the NZ Truffle Association holds its Annual General Meeting and conference. This year was Christchurch's turn, and getting it organised was one of the things that kept me off the net for most of May. Last year we invited two international speakers: neither made it. This year we tried again, and both made it. Christina Wedén flew in from Sweden to tell us how she had (almost) single-handedly created a truffle business on the Baltic island of Gotland, and Tim Terry, grower of Australia's first Périgord black truffle, came over to tell us how good his season was going to be.

Christina and Tim (sorry Christina - but this photo is much better than the other one...)

We hosted them up at Limestone Hills for a couple of nights before the conference. Christina was keen to see our little aestivum/uncinatum truffiere (which includes trees infected with inoculum she provided), and Tim was only too happy to satisfy my curiosity about events on the other side of the Tasman (of which more later). Good company, and more invites I'd be a mug to ignore...

It's been a long time between entries: I blame the season, the need to work on the book, the truffle association conference, etc and so on. It's over a month now since Patricia Wells, the Provence-based American food writer, cookery guru and International Herald Tribune restaurant reviewer visited Limestone Hills. She'd just won a James Beard Award for her Provence Cookbook, and was understandably chuffed.

The sun shone...

She was over here to take some masterclasses at the Savour New Zealand weekend in early May. She expressed an interest (in a radio interview) in finding out about NZ's truffle business so I was happy to oblige. Patricia was charming and very interested in what we're up to. I now have an invite to visit her in Provence during the truffle season - one of those offers you can't refuse. And if you're interested, her truffle cooking class in January 2006 is US$4,000 for the week (and sold out long ago).