Australian black winter truffles

Categories: Product of the week

A new arrival at Tartufaia

There has been a new arrival at Borough Market—one that has caused a bit of a stir among certain aficionados. The product concerned is a black winter truffle, which in itself is not remotely controversial—Tartufaia has been selling them since it first joined the Market, eight years ago. What makes these different, however, is that they come from Australia.

“When I was first approached by the supplier, I have to admit I was a bit sceptical,” says Mario Prati, owner of Tartufaia. “People have tried seeding the truffle in other countries, like America and New Zealand, and it has never really worked. But for some reason in this part of the world something is working. And they’re surprisingly good.”

These black truffles have been grown for about 25 years near Manjimup in west Australia and Mario thinks it must be something about the terrain of the region that has led to success. “They are very similar to the ones from Europe, but a bit sweeter. They’re nice and dense which makes them quite heavy, and they have a strong scent and good flavour. When I first tried them, I remember thinking ‘this is a really good truffle’.”

In Europe, the French périgord is the most famous of the black winter truffles, but there are also exceptional truffles from Italy and Spain. “The terroir of the various truffle-growing regions affects the truffles that grow there, and it is the same in this case,” Mario explains. “If you move a few miles things can change altogether, so at the moment I do not know if other Australian regions are supplying truffles of the same quality.”

Warm summer evenings
When it comes to cooking, use them in exactly the same way as conventional European varieties. “I always recommend using them with scrambled eggs, the first time you try a truffle,” says Mario. “That way you really get to experience its flavour. After that there many different recipes you can try.” One such recipe is Andy McLeish’s braised hare with winter truffles, or try Lesley Holdship’s sweetbreads with truffles—just right for warm summer evenings.

“One of the lovely things about it is that this is a young area in terms of truffle growing and as the root system matures, there is a good chance that the truffles will get better and better,” he continues. “I will be interested to see how these truffles develop with each season.” Young indeed—Mario knows of a tartufaia (the Italian name for a woodland in which truffles are found) in Italy that has been owned by the same family for around 400 years, and truffles had been growing there before that. In fact, the first recorded truffle recipe is from ancient Greece, around 3,000 years ago.

“The beauty for us is that the winter season in Australia is completely opposite to the European season, so now we can have black winter truffle all year round,” says Mario happily. “We have been selling them for just over a month now and while some customers have been a bit wary, we have had some very good feedback. As long as the quality remains this high, they will feature on the stall for the foreseeable future.”