July 2010

Walk past Sydney’s best restaurants this time of year and you’ll smell something my dear old friend Max Lake called the sexiest smell on earth: truffles, Tuber melanosporum, the Périgord truffle. Australia now has them  popping out of the ground in Tasmania, Western Australia  and the colder bits of NSW. Duncan Garvey was the first to get a decent truffle in Australia and 10 years ago on Bastille Day (July 14) I sat down to the first-ever Australian truffle dinner at Claude’s with Tim Pak Poy cooking and legendary winemaker Max Lake at the table. Max pronounced them the best he’d ever tasted with the nose of a white truffle (Tuber magnatum) and the flavour of a Périgord.

Duncan tells me it’s a good year — cold and dry — especially around Goulburn where he was picking in late June. He reckons the best truffles come from the coldest country.

Now we sell these underground fungi all around the world. Over at Manjimup in Western Australia, Fran Lee, the truffle-dog handler for the Wine & Truffle Co tells me they got 800kg last year and are hoping to hit the tonne this year. You can even follow the tweets of their truffle dogs, Sunny and Izzie, at their Twitter address: SunnyandIzzie.

The bad news about Périgord truffles is they aren’t cheap. But if you love food, I urge you to try them — at least once. When I asked him can you describe the flavour and aroma, the legendary truffle broker Jaques Peybere said, “Non. The flavour is unique. You compare other things to it — when you taste a wine, for example, you say it tastes of truffles.”

Mark Best at Marque (355 Crown Street Surry Hills, Ph 9332 2225) uses the Manjimup truffles. In a recent dish he pureed them in veal stock and sherry vinegar, then sautéd peeled slippery jack mushrooms with Muscovy duck ham and served that with a floss of celeriac. Mark reckons they need a little heat and always some fat to release their flavour. Useful information if you’re going to cook your own (see below).

There are two dinners coming up using Duncan Garvey’s truffles. First, the 10th anniversary of that first Australian truffle dinner at Claude’s is, of course, at Claude’s (10 Oxford Street Woollahra, Ph 9331 2325) on July 14, now with Chui Lee Luk running the kitchen. And at the Wharf (Pier 4 Hickson Road Walsh Bay, Ph 9250 1761), the annual Winter Menu will be held on July 25, a seven-course Sunday lunch featuring truffles. Better book now — they sell out quickly.

Or how about getting together a kitty with a bunch of friends and planning your own truffle dinner? You can buy them from Duncan at $3 a gram delivered overnight to your doorstep in a French sealed glass jar. Go to You’ll find recipes and all you need to know about the underground fungus in Truffles, by Elisabeth Luard, published by Frances Lincoln.

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