About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Friday, July 13, 2007
Truffles
There was an interesting piece in the Espresso column in last Tuesday's Epicure, titled Truffle scuffle. In it, Nick Miraklis, owner of the Vegetable Connection and one of Australia's biggest importers of truffles, claimed that the early season truffles from Western Australia weren't properly ripe.

"...if the truffles aren't ripe, they don't develop the proper flavours...the WA guys have jumped the gun by selling theirs prematurely...The feedback I'm getting from overseas buyers who have bought these truffles is that the Australian truffles are no good."


Sounds okay, doesn't it? Until you look a bit further.

A truffle is a member of the mushroom family and as such is the fruiting body of a particular fungus that lives underground, the truffle itself is not the plant. It is unusual to us in that this fruiting body forms and stays underground during its entire cycle. Unless it's dug up and eaten by animals or humans. There are many truffle species worldwide, ranging from temperate to desert climates. Australia is also home to many truffle species, though no one knows or has been game enough to see if they have any culinary value.

It is also a member of the Ascomycota division of fungi, which contains several fungi that are very important to humans, chiefly the yeasts that make bread making, brewing and blue cheese possible and the production of certain antibiotics (penicillin for instance), as well as being related to morel mushrooms (Morchella spp.).

What Miraklis was saying about truffles being picked not ripe, troubled me. You see, a mushroom doesn't actually ripen. It is a structure put out by a fungus in order to disperse its spore. It's not like an apple for instance that can't really be eaten before it's ripe, as soon as you can see a mushroom, you can eat it, regardless of how big it may eventually grow. I have been picking morels for twenty-five years and I have never noticed a difference in flavour between young and older morels and in other species we pick, slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) and saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus), we prize younger specimens as older ones have very often started to decay, giving them strong and bitter flavours, which has nothing to do with ripeness. Last year a friend of mine who isn't really into mushrooms gave me a box of large, wild, field mushrooms (Agaricus spp.) which had a very strong mushroom odour. On closer inspection, they proved to be on the way out and quite unusable.

The way I read Miraklis words are that a small truffle picked before the season really begins, is inferior in flavour to an in season later picked one. So what about truffles that grow after this supposed season starts and are picked small and not allegedly ripe? Truffles care nothing for arbitrary seasons and only form when conditions are right so why on earth would one truffle that grows earlier than another have less flavour? Why wouldn't the season in Western Australia start earlier than in Tasmania? I can think of several fruits and vegetables that are harvested later in Tasmania than elsewhere. It all smacks of mystique and marketing. Handily, there is no way to compare early season truffles with those from later to refute this claim. As to the overseas claim that the early truffles were no good, couldn't that also be a clever business practice from overseas buyers looking to get a better price? I mean really, the truffles were no good at all? It is also worth noting that Miraklis is being employed by Tasmanian growers to grade truffles, but apparently not the Western Australian growers he is criticising.

All the same, there may be some merit in truffles of the same species from certain locations not being as good as others, but that has more to do with terroir than ripeness and is something that can't really be changed or altered. For instance a mate of mine, a Swiss executive chef tells me that Australian morels don't have the same aroma as European ones but the flavour of ours is non-the-less excellent. It wouldn't surprise me if Australian truffles didn't taste exactly like European ones, although I've yet to meet anyone who claims that the same species of mushroom, from different areas, have different flavours.
 
  posted at 9:05 am
  4 comments



4 Comments:
At 6:38 pm, Blogger Ed said...

Yes, I saw that too. I thought it strange. Plus there isn't a record crop of 400kg on truffles from WA this year. That is a prediction from the grower and we will only know when the season has ended. I had some of those early season truffles and stuck my nose into a bag of them. I can confirm that they were top notch in smell and flavour.

 
At 10:33 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I simply love the how everybody gets all heated up about truffles.
Certainly follow your logic on the ripe thing Neil! My experience is when they're good, their good when they go past that forget it.

 
At 11:43 pm, Blogger Kalyn said...

oh sigh. I've never even seen a truffle!

 
At 10:28 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi ed, I was thinking of you when writing this piece as you posted that you bought some of the early truffles. Looks like your experience with them is similar to my thoughts.

Hi tanna, I would cry if there was a truffle in my possession that had gone past it!

Hi kalyn, that strangely may be a good thing. I've never spoken about the time when D was having M that I snuck out and bought truffles whilst they were in hospital and made them into boudin blancs (chicken sausages). D didn't find out till years later, when she found the cheque book, how much they cost.

 

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