Last week, while eyeing a decorative cheese plate served at a family function, a creamy half wheel of brie caught my attention. This brie was different, though. Oozing with creaminess, it smelled special – perfectly pungent.
Inching closer, I could see that the brie was lightly speckled with black beauty marks. “What type of cheese is this?” I asked, second guessing the brie in front of me. “That’s brie with black truffle,” my mother said. Biting into a slice of sinful smoothness, I felt the corners of my mouth stretch into a deeply satisfied smile.
“The Catholic Church once banned truffle because of its aphrodisiac qualities.” I could hear Ian Treloar’s voice in the background. No wonder…
Ian, head of the New Zealand Truffle Association, is a passionate owner of a truffière based in Whakatane and is an inspired foodie paving the way for New Zealand’s emerging truffle industry, which began in the late 1990s.
Ian and I were introduced by Gus Tissink, General Manager of BidFresh in Hamilton, a gourmet wholesale food provider with a passion for sourcing New Zealand’s best local produce.
With a finger on the pulse of the future, Gus identified the growing volume of locally grown truffle early on and has since been the wholehearted glue that brings truffière owners and chefs together over a new ingredient that he knows will be celebrated in New Zealand for years to come.
Aside from the profitability of the unique mushroom that is truffle, both Ian and Gus personally adore the gourmet item used by top chefs around the world. “In New Zealand, truffles are harvested in winter months, from May to August, so it makes sense to enjoy them with creamy scalloped potatoes, scrambled eggs or over a juicy medallion of steak,” said Gus.
“Truffles really elevate comfort foods, which we kiwis love, and they bring out the best in fats found in butter, cheese or salmon. These foods totally absorb the aroma and make for an incredible sensory experience,” echoed Ian.
A few doors down from Ian is fellow truffière owner Adrian Collins. Sharing learnings and a love for working the land, both Adrian and Ian are about to enter their third season of harvesting truffle and are excited to work closely with Gus of BidFresh to share their treasures with local chefs and food lovers throughout New Zealand.
“Gus treated me to a delicious meal at Victoria Street Bistro in Hamilton just after we sold them truffle from our truffière. Each course included an amazing application of truffle, both savory and sweet, paired with wine, which made sense given that truffle varies in flavor by what region they were grown in,” Adrian reflected.
Other New Zealand restaurants that have celebrated locally-grown truffle on their menus include Palate in Hamilton, The French Cafe in Auckland, The Falls Retreat in Waihi, Bistro 1284 in Rotorua and Stratosfare in Queenstown.
So why is that such fancy names lead the list of those who showcase the memorable mushroom on their menu? Well, there is a reason that Savin likened the truffle to a diamond. Truffles are very difficult to grow, and are thus a rare find.
Most New Zealand truffières, located from Invercargill to the Bay of Plenty, have spent over 10 years cultivating the crop before seeing the first sign of truffle come to life. Ian, for example, waited 12 years to see his first truffle. “You have to be a stayer. You have to be patient with truffles.”
With an average price of $3,000 – $3,500 per kg of truffle, one can’t help but think, “Good things really do come to those who wait.”
Aside from richness in smell, taste and value, truffles are also increasingly known for their health properties, including high protein, fibre and minerals like calcium and potassium. Although pricey, all you need is a sliver to experience the ecstasy that is truffle, which makes the mushroom within reach for all kinds of kiwis who like to flirt with their food.
While it may be hard to part ways with summer, we now know that there’s something spectacular to look forward to right here in New Zealand during the chilly months. Something sexy and seductive. Something divinely different. Something definitely worth trying: the tempting truffle.
Truffle is a member of the fungi family. It lives on and around the roots of certain types of trees, such as hazel nut or holm oak trees. Unlike other mushrooms that grow above soil’s surface, truffle grows below ground. Although there are many species of truffle, those that are most sought after for culinary use are the Italian White, Perigord Black, Bianchetto and Burgundy truffle. To date, it is estimated that there are around 30 productive truffiere in New Zealand, located between the Bay of Plenty and Invercargill.
Article by Paloma Aelyon first appeared in Nourish Magazine