Sometimes I forget just how lucky I am to live so close to the Yarra Valley and all the amazing food and wine.
And when an invitation came up recently to cook with some of the best, well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity!
Locavore Studio is doing some amazing things in the Yarra Valley, which I recently wrote about for the Lilydale Leader, and among them is a a treasure trove for truffle lovers, or even just people who want to know more about the “black gold”.
I’m not going to pretend that I know much about truffles, except that they are expensive! I did do a truffle wine tour last year which gave me a bit of an insight (check out my post on Gourmet Pawprints). But I had still never cooked with them and had only eaten them a few times. So this was next level!
Starting the day at Locavore Studio in Lilydale our small group hopped in a minibus and our driver Orson (from Yarra Valley Transfers) took us on the half-hour trip out to Yarra Valley Truffles in Woori Yallock.
Stuart Dunbar runs the show and boy, does he know his stuff. His love of truffles came after he tried them in some mashed potato. He planted his truffiere (truffle orchard) a decade ago and it’s been a labour of love which reached full-time production just last year.
The truffle season lasts only a couple of months a year at most, and around this time is pretty much peak season. The Yarra Valley is conducive to truffle-growing due to cold winters, warm summers and high rainfall.
Stuart and his truffle dog Lani (a lagotto romagnolo, an Italian working dog) showed us down past the cows and into the truffiere to see just how the hunt happens. When we were told we’d be walking through the mud, it wasn’t wrong. It was a cold, windy day but luckily the rain missed us. And supplied gumboots also helped!
We spent over an hour watching Stuart and Lani dig up truffles and it was so interesting to watch the process, even if Lani was slightly distracted by the presence of a group of people looking on. It is such a fine line between a successful harvest and losing out. And at $2.50 a gram, I can see how that is the case!
Stuart explained how he tagged and kept track of how the truffles were growing, and about finding good and bad truffles. And after smelling a few, you can definitely tell the good from the bad!
Stuart doesn’t use herbicides and fertilisers and digs each truffle out by hand, so when you get it from him, you know it is top quality and fresh. Truffles are best when freshly harvested, but can last up to a few weeks if kept properly in the fridge.
I’ve been asked what truffles smell or taste like, and I have to say it is hard to explain! But having a read of Stuart’s website, they are described as ranging “from a deep, rich earthen scent to a heady solvent like nature. Garlic, mushroom, freshly mown hay are some other phrases”. Make of that what you will!
We went back to the shed and Stuart washed some of the fresh truffle we would be taking back to the kitchen. He explained that salt enhances the truffle flavour and simple flavours let the truffle shine. And don’t need to use much to get the flavour.
Foods like parmesan, pecorino, butter, prosciutto, ingredients with some fat and some salt. Yes, you don’t need to convince me! We tried a sample of parmesan and prosciutto with and without truffle and the difference was very noticeable.
So after our truffle tutorial, we headed back to Locavore Studio to get cooking.
Chef Jessie Rae Crossley first showed us how to make truffle butter. And it was interesting to learn that you can infuse the truffle flavour into other foods without even using any of it! Just putting some truffle in with some parmesan and leaving for a few hours can leave the cheese with an amazing truffle smell and flavour.
We also got shown how to make spaghetti ai tartufi Neri (Yarra Valley Pasta spaghetti with some parmesan, garlic, truffle and butter) and truffle-roasted poussin (baby chicken) with onion gravy.
Jessie’s direction made the cooking easy and we got to enjoy the dishes with some of Locavore’s amazing sourdough bread, a glass of red, and a scoop of chocolate sorbet to finish. It was all so delicious, and actually really easy to prepare.
There was also the opportunity to buy more truffle, which Stuart brought down at the end of the day, again freshly harvested.
All in all, for someone that does not consider myself a foodie, I definitely walked away with some new knowledge and an appreciation for truffles.
There are a few tickets left for this weekend’s day trip, more details here.
And Locavore Studio has a truffle dinner and masterclass coming up on Friday, August 12. Details here.
* I was a complimentary guest for the day and all views are provided honestly and for informative purposes.