Like many people I know, my first experience with the exquisite and unmistakably enigmatic black truffle was one of elation, and resulted in me falling head over heels for the arrestingly aromatic fungi. In recent years the appreciation of truffles seems to have blown up exponentially; spreading far and wide beyond white china plates in degustation courses to simplistic dishes like scrambled eggs and even the humble burger.
I love this fracture of fine dining because who should dictate that this locally sourced (and yes rather pricey) ingredient needs to be restricted in use. I say if I want shaved truffle on a $15 plate of pasta, well let me have it.
Recently I took the opportunity of celebrating the commencement of truffle season by heading down to Truffle Kerfuffle in Manjimup for a girls weekend away with fellow bloggers Laura
. Who better to enjoy a weekend of feasting and drinking than with people who obsess about food as much as I do.
Our road trip started, as all good road trips should, with donuts from Mary Street Bakery to munch on while driving. With the three of us piled into the car there was a series of happy grunts as the roasted coconut with chocolate and matcha with fennel seed were devoured quickly. It might have been cold outside (and even colder down south), but with a little sugary dough in our bellies we were feeling warm.
Once we arrived in Manjimup we made a beeline to the long table lunch at Fonty’s Pool which we had been kindly invited to by Max Brearley from Offshoot Creative. Having media passes for the weekend gave us fantastic access beyond this event to what I consider the real hook of any food festival – the Q&A panels and the masterclasses. I love to soak in that knowledge from people who know way more about food than me, from those who live and breathe it in all their different ways.
The food bowl lunch was a beautiful affair, with three courses (and bread – hooray!) each prepared by a different chef, with accompanying wine.
After being in the car for so long, it felt good to relax and breathe in the fresh air. I was already feeling that unwinding luxurious feel permeate my skin, coaxing me into a blissful state. With a slide of freshly baked bread and deliciously smooth olive oil to dip it in, I was on my way to completely forgetting the stresses of the real world.
The first course was a beautiful start to the meal by Vasse Felix chef, Aaron Carr. They call Aaron the ‘marron whisperer’ and after one bite of this dish you can see why.
An entree comprised of local marron brushed with miso tamari soy butter, then roasted in the oven resulted in a perfectly cooked, delicate crustacean. The cauliflower couscous on the side worked well in providing a contrasting texture and flavour, that was enhanced by the grated truffle and kombu vinaigrette. I thought the use of the miso and yuzu flavours were a subtle but important addition in the dish, cutting through the fat. Plus for added texture there was also puffed rice (mmm crunchy) and fried salt bush.
With so many ingredients on the plate there was definitely a risk of overpowering the marron flavour, but it was so well balanced. Subtle, sweet and the truffle was definitely noticeable but still restrained. I was really impressed by this first course.
With our first wine, the Woodgate 2014 Pinot Gris, disappearing rather quickly, we welcomed the second course for both the food and also another cheeky glass (after all, we deserved it after the drive!). This time around there was a beautiful Timeless Hill 2012 Petit Verdot to enjoy while plates of food were set down in front of us.
Created by Sydneysider Luke Burgess (who were all left that weekend having developed a bit of a crush on – we’re calling him as the new hot name to come… watch this space), generous plates of beef short rib and mushroom with placed in the centre of the table – with individual servings of smoked quince, kohlrabi, juniper and truffle were provided. It was a bit of share dining meets solo dining, but we were happy to dig in since we were with friends (opposite us was the lovely and talented Jessica Wyld and her partner).
This was a really special dish in my opinion because it was unlike anything I’ve tried. The beef was rich and melt in your mouth – the complete opposite in flavour, temperate and texture to the thin shavings of kohlrabi, which I have to say is not something I’ve eaten much of.
Once again the truffles here were an integral ingredient but did not dominate the palate. Through every bite, it was clear that the meat was the real star here, and the truffles served to compliment. I think when I finished my plate, a little extra bread wouldn’t have gone astray to scoop up the juices from the mushroom and beef.
Once our plates are cleared for the main, Laura, Ai-Ling and I quickly ducked out to the farmers market next door. I know, crazy to be thinking about more food while we’re still eating but we had a method to our madness.
With the market closing at 4pm (only about half an hour away) we decided to spend the night in with some spoils from the day for dinner. So a mad dash (and a quick pit stop to say hello to the Custard & Co team and try their incredible mulled cider) next door allowed us to grab some treats like oozy cheese, maple glazed smoked salmon and more. I don’t think anyone even noticed we were gone… but after all that trouble we ended up putting our purchases in the fridge and driving over to Bridgetown for dinner!
We made it back just in time for dessert, lovingly put together by Tom Randolph from No 4 Blake Street and accompanied by a Chestnut Grover Liqueur Verdelho. Our final course was a creative spin on savoury ingredients to create a truffle and jerusalem artichoke custard with chocolate consomme and salted chocolate.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I dug in, but I was really pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t a very sweet dish but it definitely feel into the dessert category. The truffle and jerusalem artichoke flavouring was evident but underlying, with the chocolate and light saltiness resonating strongly. The serving size was restrained, and the accompanying sticky wine went down a treat in cementing another successful dish in our meal.
The next day we arrived back at Fonty’s Pool bright and early. With the first activity of the day being a Q&A panel, we decided to set up overlooking the lake and create a picnic breakfast. We had our market purchases from the Saturday, and after a quick lap around the stalls, we managed to construct a beast of a first meal.
From the roasted small chickens, to fresh crisp apples, lemon meringue cake and truffle tasting plates, we had our bases covered. And where possible, getting extra truffles shaved on top was an absolute must.
Running into fellow kerfuffle attendees (and on MC and chef duties) Max Vanheeyzen and Joel Valvasori while we were munching away – we could see they were greatly amused by our spread. I can’t blame them… and yet I regret nothing! It was a perfect way to start the Sunday in the frosty morning with a wonderful view.
And to entertain us even more, we could reminisce over our hilarious night at the quaint Manjimup Motor Inn where we cozied up in our three single beds and watched Chef (and yes, I was quoting it line by line since it’s one of my favourite ‘comfort films’). It might not have been the most glamorous accommodation, but I thought it added to the authenticity of a getaway like this, and all I really cared about was that my bed was warm enough to counter the 2 degree weather outside – and it was!
The rest of the day was full of truffle kerfuffle immersion activities. We started off by attending a Q&A panel, then a cooking class with Luke Burgess and finally a truffle hunt! Experiencing such a diverse range of activities really showed me just how wonderful this festival is. While the number of stands may not be the largest, there is a lot you can do beyond eating… or in my case, while eating. Or thinking about eating again.
Even though the Saturday’s lunch had been a lovely affair, the Sunday really won my heart as it gave me the opportunity to chat to the stall holders, to the farmers and the producers. I love connecting with people on a food basis (after all people who love food are the best people they say), and this was the opportune time.
Once we’d eaten as much as we could, laughed as much as we could, and seen as much as we could, it was time to begin the drive back to Perth. But before we made it all the way home, we stopped by a place called Newy’s to stock up on fresh veggies and fruit. I can’t even begin to explain how much I bought, and for a ridiculously low price. And the best part about getting produce down here was how long it stayed fresh for. I even got to use some of the ingredients to make a delicious soup
It was a great weekend away with some lovely company – and one that didn’t just relax me, it provided education, belly warming food and a reconnection with our southern region and the produce and growers in that area. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.