Truffle Festival: Majura Valley Experience

21 Jun

* I enjoyed the Majura Valley Experience as a guest

My relationship with truffles has been fraught. I’ve had dishes where I can really taste what is supposed to be a flavoursome delicacy, and dishes where I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t notice if it had been added or not. It’s been cheese with truffles and Frugii’s divine truffle ice cream which has really helped me understand the flavour and what I should be looking for, but I’ve still come away confused about whether my palate just isn’t truffle friendly. The Majura Valley Experience – a day of three different truffle experiences – promises to change all that.

We arrive at French Black Truffles off the new Majura Road at 10am for a truffle hunt. The sun is shining brightly but, as every Canberran knows, clear skies just means it’s going to be stupidly cold. In the shade of Canberra’s tallest mountain, Mt Majura, the cold is biting. As the last of the cars arrives, we head into a small shed where the magic happens.

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Manager Jason explains that truffles earn up to $3000 per kilo. French Black Truffles started within a cloud of naysayers: Canberra had never had truffles; it would never work. But owner Sherry had the right combination of things to make it work: she was determined, did plenty of research, Canberra had the right climate, and – with her husband’s civil engineering firm – had the ability to put down the necessary amount of lime to make the soil akaline enough.

The day they laid the lime, there was so much of it that the media was ringing Sherry and asking if Mt Majura had been hit with snow! Within 2.5 years, they had their first truffle.

We walk down to gate through which there are thousands of trees – holly oaks and hazelnut – and, beneath them, truffles. It’s not the prettiest farm I’ve ever seen but it’s all about what’s underneath the ground – and the recent rain and frosts have proven the perfect weather for truffle production. At the gate, Jason joins us with two Labradors in tow. Sweet chocolate Lab Willow is chosen to help us on the hunt today – pigs can also be used but dogs are better (and they don’t have a tendency to eat the truffles like pigs do!).

Willow is let off the leash and she’s off! Zig-zagging through the trees and snuffling at their bases, she’s fast but thorough. The smell is very peculiar and she’s on it, doing a quick dig at a spot where she knows there’s a truffle and looking up at expectantly at Jason.

Willow waits patiently as we begin to cut into the ground and dig. First, it’s important to smell the dirt to confirm there definitely is truffle in there – it should come with a strong truffle smell. The stronger the smell, the closer we’re getting to the truffle in the ground.

Our first find is a small one, and not too pungent. But Willow is quickly back on her feet and hunting for the next – we quickly dig up two large ones, and just as we’re about to head off, Willow alerts us that we’re about to leave without collecting them all! Clever dog, Willow.

The truffle hunters are encouraged to help Willow – getting down in the dirt and digging with the trowel until we uncover a truffle. We have many volunteers and pull out a big haul. Truffles are hardy things but given their value every person who handles the trowel does so delicately!

More digging

Truffle find! Willow basks in the sun as a result.

More finds!

Within 25 minutes we’ve got plenty of truffles, so it’s back to the shed to scrub them and check their quality.

Truffles are scrubbed in cold water with a horsehair brush to get the dirt off, and come out nice and clean. Grading them requires an assessment of the aroma, the darkness of the black colour, and the thickness of the white veins when cut.

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This truffle has some beautiful looking veins but they’re not among the best, which lowers the grading level.

While in the shed, we’ve learned a few more things about truffles. One of the most interesting to me is that truffle oil is basically fake – it captures the aroma, but does little in terms of taste. Shaving truffles is similar – but you do get the show in restaurants as the truffle is shaved onto your dish. Both the oil and shaving truffles gives you a real whack of the smell but leaves you with some disappointment on the palate, while infusing gives both the smell and flavour. This goes some way in explaining my confused interactions with truffles in the past.

We end our truffle hunt with a gift of eggs: eggs which have been in a glass jar with truffles for a number of days, infusing through the shell. I scramble them for dinner and they’re decadent, delicious.

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The day continues to warm as we head just a few hundred metres down the road to the Mount Majura vineyard. There is the creamy brie infused with truffle which helped me understand the flavour so well. The Small Cow Farm brie is sliced in half and filled with thick shavings of truffle and left to infuse for a few days. It’s been sitting out for a few hours before we arrive so that it’s gooey and thick.

The brie is served with walnuts and dried figs and crackers, as well as a range of wines – a sparkling, chardonnay and pinot noir – to showcase the flavours of the brie. It’s moreish and pretty darn delightful to sit outside – yes, outside! – in the sun around midday on a weekend.

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At 1pm we arrive for the final stop of our experience – Pod Food. Pod Food’s just a short drive down Majura Road and then across the road to the airport, entering Pialligo via Beltana. In an old cottage it’s got ample seating inside as well as a very large enclosed deck. We’re seated right up against the edge where the sun beats through and warms us to the core.

Thick sourdough with truffle butter

We begin with thick, soft sourdough and a light truffle butter which easily smears across the bread.

Our meal today is matched with our choice of a wine from Mount Majura Vineyard – either the chardonnay or the pinot noir (which we fortunately just sampled). Our menu includes duck so we opt for the pinot and get a full glass.

Our first dish is a portobello mushroom with generous helpings of truffled goats cheese, kale and a thick, decadent mushroom cream.

The bright green kale is fresh and the cream is quite simply luscious. Truffles and mushrooms go together beautifully and this is no exception.

The duck arrives as little morsels paired with a perigueux jus, thick Jerusalem artichoke gallette, seeded mustard and poached pears. The duck is lightly fatty and juicy. The use of pears surprises me, but the slight tartness breaks up the other deep flavours.

Our third course is a rhubard and orange cumble, with truffle custard and vanilla bean ice cream. The head chef joins us to shave truffles over the dish.

As Jason has explained earlier, the shaved truffles are more about the aroma but the truffle custard means the flavour also lingers on the palate. Again, this dish has tart sweetness to contrast with the creamy cold and truffled textures of the ice cream and the custard. The crumble brings it all together. And let’s be honest: it looks fantastic.

But it’s not over yet! The kitchen has a surprise for us: a hot toddy served with truffle ice cream. This isn’t quite Frugii’s truffle ice cream but, like the brie, it infuses the truffle so beautifully and the hot toddy provides welcome relief to the cold bites of ice cream.

… and with that, we need a nap! It’s mid-afternoon and the warmth of the sun and dish after dish has made for a very warming Saturday – inside and out. Most of all, I’m so pleased I now understand a little bit more about the curious world of truffles.

Date: Saturday, 20 June 2015

Where: We start at French Black Truffles (closer to the Gungahlin end of Majura Road), then to Mt Majura Vineyard, then down the road and into Pialligo to Pod Food. There are plenty of signs for French Black Truffles but Pod Food is a little trickier to see.

Cost: I attended courtesy of the Experience. The complete experience is $165 per person (includes a truffle hunt, truffle brie with wine, and three courses with wine). From Thursday-Sunday the winery and lunch only is $95. Truffle brie at the winery is only $25.

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile. While the truffle hunt involves a lot of talking, it’s genuinely interesting and the whole experience helps expose why the industry is such a peculiar and interesting one – as well as what’s actually involved in finding truffles, which is not automated at all! The brie and wines is a fantastic deal to break up the day before a leisurely lunch at Pod Food, where the service was spot on.

Want more? Bookings can be made at http://www.podfood.com.au/events or info@mountmajura.com.au or 0411 107 745. My previous experience of the truffle brie can be found here, and truffle degustations can be found here and here.

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2 Responses to “Truffle Festival: Majura Valley Experience”

  1. champagnecole July 3, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    Oh that looks superb! I still don’t confidently know what a truffle tastes like. I really want a big wedge of that cheese 😊

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Frugii Dessert Laboratory | In The Taratory - July 7, 2015

    […] Want more? Just head along. Or if you try the truffle ice cream and are hooked, you can learn of more truffle experiences to enjoy here. […]

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