Produce report: August 7
Truffles have been the star turn on an increasing number of restaurant menus over winter and those attending Wellington on A Plate this month (details below) can take their choice from three events featuring the highly prized fungi. Few of us will ever have had the chance to buy fresh truffles but there are actually 50 truffieres (plantations) in New Zealand, from Northland down to Central Otago and Southland, with even more set to start production. The process isn’t a speedy one — it takes from three to seven years for a new truffle plantation to begin production, with variable yields in the early stages.
Waipara Valley truffle grower Gareth Renowden of Limestone Hills, who sells to restaurants such as Orphans Kitchen and Cocoro in Auckland and Roots in Lyttelton, can also be found on occasion selling his truffles at the Waipara Valley Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning. Gareth will provide an insight into all things truffle at one of the Wellington events — at the Sterling Woodfire Eatery & Bar which he supplies. “Until recently,” he says, “New Zealand’s truffle growers struggled to meet the demand from top restaurants and lodges around the country but the harvest is steadily increasing and in the near future producers expect to start exporting their truffles to the Northern Hemisphere.” We caught up with Gareth to learn more.
What type of truffles do you grow at Limestone Hills?
We grow four different kinds of truffles: the Perigord black truffle, the bianchetto white truffle, the Burgundy truffle and the winter black truffle. We are only a small grower, and our main truffiere is only about half a hectare. But we are planting more trees.
What type of truffle would we be most likely to see on local menus?
New Zealand pioneered growing the Perigord black truffle in the Southern Hemisphere, and it's been available in relatively small quantities since the 1990s. The harvest is increasing rapidly now, and so you’ll find the Perigord in most of the country’s top restaurants. The bianchetto white has only come on the scene in the past 10 years, and is still in short supply, but it is also popular with top chefs.
When is truffle season in NZ?
Our season starts in January with the first of the Burgundy truffles, then runs through until early September. The peak season starts in June, when the other truffles start ripening, and finishes in early September.
Could a novice truffle eater differentiate between types?
Oh yes, the differences are not that subtle! All truffles have a pervasive aroma, but the bianchetto white is garlic and parmesan, while the Perigord black is forest floor and floral. They taste and smell of themselves, of course, but they also enhance the flavours of the ingredients they’re matched with — especially eggs, butter, cream and cheese.
Can the home cook buy truffles in New Zealand, and approximately how much could they expect to pay?
Although we prioritise our restaurant clients, we do sell to private customers. Anyone who has ever thought about spending $50 on a good bottle of pinot could spend the same amount on truffle and have a great truffle experience. Prices vary from $3/gram for the Perigord and bianchetto, to $1/gram for the other two.
Thinking about the most bang for your buck, what’s the best way to cook with truffles? How much would you need?
You should allow 5g per head per dish in order to let the truffle be the star of the show, but there are lots of ways to make that truffle go a long way. Truffles should always be stored in tightly sealed containers with eggs and butter. The eggs will absorb the aroma and become delicious. You can use them to make scrambled eggs, truffled mayonnaise, even ice cream, without using much truffle. Butter will also absorb the aroma and become intensely truffled — without using any truffle. Then put a pat of butter on a steak.
What do you think about truffle salt and truffle oil?
Most commercial truffle products are made with artificial “truffle aroma” — a chemical cocktail which is a cartoon version of the real thing. Fresh truffles are rich and complex. Truffle oil is only good for training truffle dogs.
How do you best like to eat them?
With the Perigord black it’s scrambled eggs; the first bianchetti of the year are simply shaved over pasta (with truffle butter and parmesan), and the Burgundy is at its best sandwiched into a slice of the best Brie — perfect with a glass of pinot noir.
Tell us about Limestone’s truffle hunts?
There is a special magic in watching truffle dogs work. Rosie the beagle loves her work — and the treats she gets when she finds a truffle — and, being a bit of a star, she charms all our visitors. We take guests to our truffieres to see Rosie sniff out the buried treasure and explain a bit about truffles and their underground lifestyle. Then they can cross the valley and enjoy great truffle dishes at Black Estate and Pegasus Bay winery restaurants.
Do truffle harvests vary much between years?
They can do, yes. Like any horticultural crop we’re at the mercy of the weather and climate.
How should truffles be stored, and for how long?
Truffles will keep for 10 days or more if they are looked after. Keep them in a tightly sealed container with kitchen towel to absorb moisture, plus eggs and butter, in the top (warmest) part of the fridge.
Can anyone grow truffles in their own backyard?
If you have a big garden and the right soil and climate, it’s perfectly possible. But to guarantee truffles every year, the more trees you can plant, the better.
Is one region better than another for truffle growing in New Zealand?
Well, I happen to think that North Canterbury and especially the Waipara Valley is the truffle capital of New Zealand. We have around 20 growers producing wonderful truffles — more than in any other region. But truffles can be grown anywhere from Northland to Central Otago — down the east coast of both islands.
Is exporting to the Northern Hemisphere on the radar for you?
We’re a small producer and unlikely to ever export large quantities but some larger growers are starting to export around the world. Over the next decade, I’m confident it will become a vibrant export business.
How do local truffles differ from those in the Northern Hemisphere?
All of our truffles were introduced from Europe, so they are the same species as you find in France, Italy and Spain. And they are every bit as delicious.
Truffles at Wellington on a Plate
You can try Kiwi truffles at the following three events. See here for tickets
- Bubbles, Truffles, Caviar, Logan Brown restaurant, Friday August 25
- All About Truffles, Zibibbo, August16 & 17
- A Sterling Night of Truffles, Sterling Woodfire Eatery & Bar, Friday August 25
Vegetable buys of the week
Fruit buys of the week