The highlight of our recent trip down under was a visit to The Wine & Truffle Company in Manjimup. Manjimup is approximately 4 hours (by car) south of Perth. And while that’s a bit further than most visitors would usually venture, a trip to this part of WA is well worth it.
Over the past few years, S and I have been really impressed with the quality of the truffles coming from this young but successful Australian truffery (and winery). Top chefs like Tetsuya Wakuda and Thomas Keller order truffles from them, so you know the quality is top-notch. And since the Australian seasons are the opposite of those in the Northern hemisphere, this means chefs working in America and Europe can now offer their guests what would normally be a Fall and Winter delicacy during their Spring and Summer.
The Wine & Truffle Company grows the French Perigord Black Truffle (Tuber melanosporum). This is the second most expensive truffle in the world–the most being the Italian White truffle (Tuber magnatum). Summer Truffles (both white and black varieties) and Chinese Black Truffles are entirely different species. When the folks at The Wine & Truffle Company first started cultivating black truffles, back in 1997, I think a lot of people thought they were crazy. Over the past 12 years though, they’ve silenced all critics. This year, they expect to produce over 900 kilos of truffles, much of which is exported directly to some of the world’s best restaurants.
S and I had a fabulous time visiting the truffery. They have a pretty wine tasting room–in addition to truffles, these guys make some pretty fabulous wines–and cafe, which, of course, offers some lovely dishes built around showcasing the company’s black truffles. S, for example, had a grilled cheese sandwich that was anything but simple. Made with truffled brie, the sandwich was bursting with fresh shavings of pungent and delicious truffle. I had a parmesan crusted chicken stuffed with homemade truffle butter.
The best part of our visit was being allowed to go on a short truffle hunt. We were accompanied by a fun-loving, happy-as-can-be, and really friendly little black labrador (and of course a couple of her handlers who watched us more carefully than they watched her–I suspect they knew I wanted to try stealing some of these expensive tubers). Roxy the lab was simply amazing to watch. We were taken into the company’s truffle farm, where they’ve planted over 13,000 hazelnut and oak trees. Each of these trees’ roots were dipped in a special spore solution before being planted. This, we were told, in addition to the perfect Western Australian climate, is what creates the preconditions for truffle production.
Within minutes of walking into the truffery, Roxy stopped, sniffed the ground and tapped her paw very visibly on a spot. She then looked up at her handler, waiting for a treat. Checking the spot where she tapped, we were amazed to see the top of a big black truffle the size of my palm, peeking out. This wonder dog repeated this amazing feat over and over again over the next hour or so. It was astounding. She must have sussed out several thousands of dollars worth of truffles right in front of S and me. Unfortunately, both Roxy and her handlers were much faster than me and I never got the opportunity to pinch a few for myself (I did, however, get to buy some of the truffles we found that day at a special cellar door/truffery door price so I was pretty satisfied).
If you want to check out what the truffle hunt looks like, please click over to this link: http://wineandtruffle.com.au/trufflehunt_video.
The WA truffle season is their Fall and Winter, approximately April through June/July. You can register to go along on a real truffle hunt through the Wine & Truffle Company’s website or, starting next year, they will actually be running simulated hunts all year round. In addition to Roxy, we also met a handsome black lab named Errol and a smart-looking yellow lab named Skye. I am sure every child would be thrilled to go on a hunt with one of these sweet pups. I know that the kid in me wanted to hug Roxy repeatedly during our short excursion.
The Wine & Truffle Company has several international distributors, as well as an online shop.