Rosie’s big day at Bell Hill


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 ((From the same nursery batches, too.)). 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 ((Never pleasant, and I’m very grateful to Marcel and Sherwyn for getting me home safely.)), 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 ((And sales.)) 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.