July 06

Time for a bit of book marketing. A little while ago, I submitted The Truffle Book to Google's Book Search feature. The full text of the book is searchable (here), and you can read relevant pages (scanned in from the pdf edition). Although the whole book is available, you can only read about 20% at any one time - which seems like a sensible limit to me. After all, the pdf edition isn't exactly expensive - NZ$15 is about US$9.40 or £5.10 - and I would like to make a profit on the exercise.

Meanwhile, my US and UK distributors have put the book on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. If you've read the book and enjoyed it, how about contributing a reader review? Or putting it on your wish list? You might suggest a friend buys a copy there, just to push the sales rank up a bit.

UK readers can also purchase the book from Truffle UK (who recently sold quite a few copies at the Chelsea Flower Show, and have a nice congrats message on their homepage). I suspect they also had a substantial hand in getting the book plugged by gardening writer Bunny Guinness in The Sunday Telegraph back in June (not available at the Telegraph website (yet?):

Not exactly a review, but a firm recommendation... and sorry about the pic alignments going wonky*. I'm struggling with the Flint css... Mark?

Photo courtesy of Crop & Food Research

Found on July 7th by Carolyn Dixon as she was root testing some of the young Tuber borchii infected Pinus pinea at CFR's Lincoln plantation. Congratulations to all concerned - but especially Carolyn. She's as good as any dog... (that's a compliment Carolyn, honest...). I can't wait to find out what they taste like when fully ripe, so I took Peg round my little bianchetto patch today - but she's being a recalcitrant truffle finder at the moment. She needs her nose recalibrating - and to remember what her job is. I hope to take her round a couple of productive truffieres this week, and have another dog (or two) sniffing round the Hills, to make sure she's not missed out on anything. Still waiting for #2...

John Burn with a truffle I couldn't afford.

On the way down to Wanaka for our annual skiing holiday (mostly at Treble Cone), we stopped at Ashburton to visit truffle growers John & Iris Burn. They were holding a "harvesting workshop" (with Crop & Food Research) for South Island growers, and I wasn't going to miss that...

John & Iris were one of the original NZ truffle pioneers, planting their trees back in 1990, but they had to wait until 2004 for their first crop. As you can see from the smile on his face, John was enjoying himself - and he deserves all the pleasure just for being patient. He was offering truffles at "mates rates", and I wanted one to take down to Wanaka. Something around 30g to 50g would have been perfect. The one he dug up for me weighed 220g, and I couldn't afford it.

Press coverage of the day here, a successful sale here, and on TV One's Close Up here (the video clip was available at time of writing).

It's an awkward time. The first truffle is fading into memory, the truffle harvest in the region is getting into full swing, and I'm wondering when I'll find number two. The amazingly charming Peg is dutifully sniffing round the trees, but remains more interested in the mice than in anything else that may be under the ground. We've had visits from two truffle dogs, neither of whom showed a lot of interest - though with one of them we were doing the rounds after dark, so it was hard to be sure what was going on.

It would be rather ironic if we only had one truffle this year, and I found it by sheer luck rather than dogged skill. Ironic, but unlikely. I hope.

What did we do with the first truffle? We ate it, of course. Once you've dug up a truffle, they have about a week's shelf-life, so... I stored it in a plastic container on a bed of risotto rice and some eggs. As noted earlier, a couple of those eggs became breakfast, and very nice and truffly they were too. A couple of days later, four more eggs and about a third of the truffle went into a brouillade which my daughter and I enjoyed for lunch. A great deal.

Early the next week, after passing from had to hand at a Probus meeting where I'd given a talk, it went into my dinner thusly: I cut some flaps in the nice piece of fillet steak I had in the fridge, and inserted truffle shavings. I then trussed the steak with string and left it to truffle for a few hours. The remainder of the truffle (bar a few bits reserved for later) went into a very nice ripe bit of NZ brie. Later, I opened a bottle of good wine (Danny Schuster Omihi Reserve 2004), got some real chicken stock out of the freezer, and began making a red wine risotto with the rice the truffle had been sitting in (which, by now, was pretty smelly). When that was just about done, I added in the reserved bits of truffle, and slapped the steak onto the hot griddle. Served the steak on a bed of risotto. It was very good - but would have been even better if the truffle had been fully ripe - and if I'd left the steak longer to truffle. The risotto was perfectly delicious, but the act of cooking does drive off much of the the flavour it's absorbed, hence the need to add a few bits at the end.

The cheese was saved until Camille came back from her business trip, so that she at least got a sniff of what all the fuss was about. Still waiting for number two...

Those who have delved deep into On The Farm may have stumbled on an article on global warming that I wrote for a New Zealand small farm magazine a couple of years ago. I've been keeping up with the issue ever since, thanks to excellent resources like RealClimate and Google's news alerts. I'm certain that global warming is going to be a serious challenge for the world in the not-too-far-distant future, but I lean towards the optimistic end of opinion (ie, we can fix it, if we...). But I'm nowhere near as heroically optimistic as Marco Diacono, an Italian living in Honiton, Devon. As the BBC reports:

"Mr Diacono aims to bring in his first olive oil within the next seven years but just in case, he has planted an olive species used to frost and snow."

I think they mean an olive cultivar, and I would guess we're talking the Tuscan trinity - frantoio, leccino and pendolino - all of which are growing nicely at Limestone Hills. Even so, I would guess that there wouldn't be enough heat (yet) to ripen the fruit - not commercially, at least - for a good many years. But I did note that while staying in Kew before Christmas, olives seemed to have become a trendy front garden tree - and there was even some black fruit to be seen. Time, perhaps, for a special English revision of The Olive Book.

Meanwhile, readers who have been waiting for news of our first olive oil will have to wait another year. Blackbirds ate the lot before I got the bird scarers organised. I am therefore planning autumn feasts with songbirds on the menu. Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie?