On The Farm

On The Farm is moving

After an extended period of inaction (because of Hot Topic), things are happening behind the scenes at On The Farm. Limestone Hills has moved to a new web host, and I've taken the opportunity to move OTF over to a new WordPress blog, with a new address:http://blog.limestonehills.co.nz/. These pages will remain live for the foreseable future - at least until the search engines have caught up with the new addresss - but all the action (if there is any!) will be at the new site.

Good news from over the hill - the first truffles of the 2007 Canterbury truffle season are being harvested. Nothing at Limestone Hills yet (but we're looking). It's an early start - last year fully ripe truffles didn't appear until the end of June, so there must be something in the cool spring/summer and dry warm autumn we've had. I won't mention climate change. Harvest is also under way in Western Australia, where Nick Malajczuk is expecting to get upwards of 400kg this year. WA is also planning its first truffle festival - 1-5 August at Mundaring. Copies of The Truffle Book will be available... And if you want to read more, the current of issue of NZ Geographic features an article of mine on truffles (follow that link to see an excellent truffle dive executed by Gavin, the trufficulteur from over the hill). The next will include one on climate change.

A great article marked the reappearance of the New York Times De Gustibus column in the middle of May. Chef Daniel Patterson of Coi in San Francisco enumerated some of the shortcomings of truffle oil:

“I used to use white truffle oil a lot, but now I only use a little bit in my liquid black truffle ravioli,” Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago told me. “It adds a little more perfume, a slightly different flavor. I cut my teeth cooking at the French Laundry, and when we were using truffles there was always a bottle close by. But after I was on my own for a while I started to ask myself why I was using it, and I didn’t have a good answer. It doesn’t even taste like truffle.”

It might be OK for a molecular cuisinier like Achatz to play with truffle oil for nefarious creative purposes, but I think it's frankly scandalous that somewhere like the French Laundry would even think about inflicting the stuff on its patrons. They should be doing this:

...Mr. Palladin was enraged to walk into the kitchen and find that in his absence bottles of truffle oil had cropped up everywhere. Grabbing two of them, he called the staff out to the alley behind the restaurant where the garbage was held. He hurled the oil at the side of the building, smashing the glass bottles against the wall. “It’s full of chemicals,” he screamed at his confused and frightened staff members, who scrambled back to the kitchen through the gathering scent of truffle oil mingled with the fetid air of the alley. “No more!”

Freya (top) and Marcello - romance is in the air

Hot news in truffle dog circles - New Zealand's first lagotti are getting it on. Puppies will be on the way at the end of the year, if all goes well. Marcello was NZ's first lagotto, brought over from Australia in December 2005 by Robert and Cheryl Rangi, and Australian Ch Greydove Bella Mia Freya was shipped in at the end of last year by Sue Milner of Northland. Can I resist ordering one? Can I be "disloyal to beagles", as Camille puts it?

Meanwhile, the wonders of the interweb tubes brought me an email from the new president of the new Lagotto Club of America, Judith Martin, of LagottoAZ. She's training her dogs with truffles from the estimable Jim Wells of Oregon. Now, Jim and a lagotto? Good combination...

This is what I've been up to for the last 8 months - a guide to global warming and its impacts on New Zealand. Hot Topic will be published by AUT Media in August. Details at the Hot Topic web site - which includes a supporting blog. If you're interested in climate change and what it means for NZ, I hope you'll pick up a copy of the book - and the blog will keep you up-to-date with climate news. Now I have to get back to the final editing...

Pinot noir at Limestone Hills, May 5th, 2007

Danny estimated our first vendange to be about 35kg. Not a lot - barely worth picking - but it will be made into wine chez Schuster. Two main problems: the nets went on late, allowing the birds to get in and feast on most of what was there (which wasn't much anyway, because the region had a poor fruit set in our cold spring), and recent rain caused some fruit to split and pick up a fungal infection. Looking good for next year though. Nets on by the end of January, a bit of drainage work, and 2008 pinot and syrah from Limestone Hills should be a reality. Look out for Cotes du Waipara in 2009.

I haven't been to Chicago for 20 years, and I was younger then, happy to spend all night in a blues club getting over jetlag. At the IACP conference last week, I was more concerned with surviving to get to my workshop, resisting the blandishments of food and wine to arrive unscathed at the right room at the right time. I failed. Count the meal at Le Bouchon, preceded as it was by regular infusions of Peregrine Pinots gris and noir, and rounded off with a pleasant little Bourgogne, as my downfall. The company was excellent: Birgitta Watz, Annabel Langbein, my co-presenter Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch (the ch is silent) - former personal cook to President Mitterand - and the food was high quality French bistro-style. Danièle ordered the boudin noir, and pronounced that it was in the style of Guadelope or Martinique. It may have been made in San Francisco, but the man who made it came from the French empire.

Danièle was in charge of the tasting. We had very fine Oregon white and black truffles compounded specially for the occasion by Jim Wells of Oregon Wild Edibles, the white butter served on bread, the black on pasta. For comparison, we had some commercial "truffle" butter, which had all the finesse of truffled aftershave. Danièle - who is formidable in both French and English senses of the word - took the lead with the culinary history of the black truffle, and I finished off with a quick tour of the truffles of the world, and the iniquities of the overuse of truffle oil. Seemed to go down well...

But the highlight was not the workshop, it was the duck-fat fries at Hot Doug's, home of the best dogs in the mid-west. As the T-shirt there has it: "There are no two finer words in the English language than encased meats", and Doug may be right. But not with his Port Wine and Confit Duck Sausage with Black Truffle Butter and Chimay Cheese, which had all the hallmarks of truffle oil overuse. If a swiftly passing hot dog smells like cartoon truffle, you know you've made the right choice with the Portugese Linguica with Saffron Rouille and 12-month Manchego Cheese.

You can't keep a good Canuck down, not if they're intent on growing truffles in British Columbia. The Vancouver Sun has a nice piece about the fledgling industry (though I wouldn't trust all the "trivia" at the end).

"The Wynes planted 150 inoculated hazelnut trees two years ago and expect to have Perigord truffles in about three years. Like a pregnant woman, the trees are tested along the way. "They were tested at the molecular level to confirm the DNA on the root system was right. It's all in a concerted effort to make sure the industry has a high standard, right from the outset," says Quentin Wyne. He describes the allure and aroma of the Perigord as "somewhat garlicky, somewhat like the smell of freshly burnt soil after rainfall." Others, he says, have different impressions. "You wouldn't want to print those," he says, clamming up."

He's been reading the book. I'll have to introduce the BC crew to Michael Ableman, the US organic pioneer who is now farming in BC. He was a presenter at the IACP conference in Chicago, and we didn't quite get to exchange books - though I do know he's interested in truffles.

Australia's an amazing place. Big, old and flat, with a propensity for truffles, and native species well-adapted to sniffing them out, as the The Canberra Times reports:

"Truffles? Yes, these pointy-nosed forest foragers are Australia's truffle hounds, with a taste for some 60 species of native truffles that can be soft or hard-bodied and range in size from a golf ball to a pea. "You could call them truffle junkies or truffle gourmands. I've seen areas where fungi was fruiting that were so extensively dug over that it could only be called frenzied activity," Claridge says. Australia has between 500 and 1000 bush truffles, some with fragrant odours like garlic, vanilla or cinnamon. Others exude a pungent whiff of "rotting fish or diesel fumes". Potoroos and bandicoots are "basically a nose on legs" and seem to be able to sniff out truffle sites from some distance, Claridge says.

I'll settle for mice, and I can report that they are greatly reduced in numbers this year.

Everyone knows something about truffles, and often it's pigs. Truffles and pigs go together like a horse and... a 2CV. Pigs like truffles. But you don't find many people using them for truffle hunting, unless you're in the Périgord and the TV cameras are nearby. Chez Pim has a lovely post and some nice pictures of Marthe Delon and her pig Kiki. Pim's also done a very nice little truffe noir (as in film noir) piece about the truffe blanche d'Italie... Well worth checking out.