Truffle harvest newsletter #3 (July 2013)

Winter so far: We’ve been busy over the last few weeks, finding truffles and despatching them to satisfied customers. Rosie the trufflehound’s fame has been spreading, thanks to a lovely photoessay at POD Gardening by Paul Thompson which records our discovery back in April of the largest Burgundy truffle yet harvested in New Zealand – all 533g of it.

Homeward bound, truffle in hand…

The weather’s been oscillating between snowy cold and unseasonal warmth, but seems to have settled into the latter for the last week or so. It’ll soon be time to get stuck in to pruning vineyard and trees (500+), not to mention the 100+ roses in the garden.

Bianchetto truffles: Our bianchetto harvest has been going well, and our truffles have featured on menus at Saggio di Vino, Edesia, and Chillingworth Road in Christchurch, at Roots in Lyttleton and Chantellini’s in Hanmer. We’ll be at the Waipara Valley Farmer’s Market tomorrow morning with a couple of hundred grammes of good bianchetto to sell – part of the market’s welcome to the 80+ chefs attending the NZ Chefs Association conference in Christchurch this weekend. On Saturday afternoon we’ll be welcoming the chefs to Limestone Hills for a truffle tour and a chance to see Rosie in action. Might be a bit crowded down on the front paddock…

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The good oil (not quite)


Shortly before we left for our big European tour — of which more later — the team from Restaurant Schwass (soon to be relaunched in new premises) popped up to Waipara to harvest our olives. The general idea was that they would take the olives and turn them into oil for the restaurant, and let us have some for our own use. But as you can see, they were a little — how shall I put this — underprepared for the size of the task. They left with olives for pickling. Oil will have to wait for next year, and a larger workforce. A good time was had by all. Rosie the beagle makes an appearance at lunch…

Careful with that spray, Eugene

My views on truffle oil are probably becoming clear to readers of this blog, and I’m always glad to get support in high places — in this case from Joel Robuchon and Alain Passard in France. They’re upset at the increasing use of flavour additives in classical French cuisine, of which arôme de truffe is just one example. Adam Sage covers the issue at The Times Online:

“It is shameful,” said M Passard, who claims to use only natural ingredients at his celebrated Parisian restaurant, l’Arpège. “I don’t know what to call the people who use these chemicals, but they are not cooks. Cooking is about seasons and nature.”

M Robuchon, widely considered to be one of the most talented chefs of the past 20 years, agreed. He said: “I am 200 per cent against the use of artificial flavours and additives.” However, such flavours appear to be an increasingly common ingredient in French cuisine, with chefs looking for quick, cheap recipes.

Many of the arômes come from Chef Simon, a French restaurant supplier. Their site is an eye opener. This, for instance, is how to make oeufs aux truffes sans truffes sans truffes. “Oeufs aux truffes” are truffled eggs (recipe in my book). “Oeufs aux truffes sans truffes” are truffled eggs without truffles — that is, the eggs are truffled by storage with truffles, and absorb a lot of flavour. You can cook them without truffle and still enjoy a good hit of flavour. “Oeufs aux truffes sans truffes sans truffes” are that dish made without any real truffle at all, by using their arôme. And they claim it’s astonishing. I claim it’s fraud.

They also suggest that it’s OK to use cheap Chinese truffles, with a dose of arôme. If there are restaurateurs who think serving that to their customers is acceptable, they should be shot. But there are plenty prepared to overuse truffle oil… Education is the key. They all need to read my book…

Truffle oil: too much of a bad thing

I don’t like truffle oil. Neither does LA Times‘ writer S Irene Virbila:

“I quite possibly would have enjoyed the steak ‘n’ eggs — steak tartare topped with a quail egg — if it hadn’t been so doused with truffle oil that it was like eating raw beef marinated in after-shave.”

I wouldn’t want to be the restaurant she was reviewing — apart from being incredibly expensive and producing uninspiring food, they were using the oil like ketchup:

“Poussin pot-au-feu is baby chicken in its juices with wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, fresh corn and other spring vegetables. But hold the truffle oil. In one meal, our group happened to get four dishes with truffle oil. That constitutes abuse.”

I’ve noted before that Ms Virbila knows her truffles, and it’s good to see that we agree about truffle oil too. As anyone who reads my book will discover, all commercially available truffle oils are 100% artificial, even if they have a little slice of something that looks like truffle at the bottom of the bottle. It’s much easier and a lot cheaper to dose some oil with an entirely artificial cocktail of the principal chemical components of truffle smell than it is to take fresh truffle and try and make it give up its goodness to the oil.
Truffle oils are like cartoon versions of the real thing. A fresh truffle produces lots of different flavour and aroma components — the artificial versions use only the commonest chemicals to create a much simplified smell and flavour. A bit like doing a painting by numbers version of a Picasso, and then trying to pass it off as the real thing.

I use truffle oil to train the incredibly charming Peg. If I see it on a menu, I avoid that dish. I have been known to make pointed comments to waiters in posh restaurants. I mean, would they dare serve tinned asparagus?