The Flying Foodie - Canberra

It’s truffle season in Canberra and Alana Lowes, The Flying Foodie, is off on an adventure, armed with plenty of hugs to give man’s best friend who are on the hunt for the earthy delicacy.

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Winter in Canberra means truffle season and truffle season means beautiful rich dishes infused with the heady earthy aroma of black truffles, however, it also the busiest time of the year for man’s best friend.  Trained to hunt for the prized edible fungus, dogs are used on the truffle farms to sniff out and assist the farmers for harvesting the winter crops.

Simba, a beefy chocolate Labrador, launches from the back of the ute, nose pressed to the ground, legs barely able to keep up.  His most acute sense, smell, quickly tips him off, sending him crisscrossing the field of oak trees attempting to catch the scent in the cool Canberra breeze.

“He’s hunting for hugs,” laughs Jayson, owner of The Truffle Farm in Canberra.

We all chuckle, as we know he is on the hunt for one of the world’s most exclusive foods, the French black truffle.  Perfect climatic conditions in the Majura Valley region, around 15 minutes from Canberra’s CBD, are almost an exact replication of the Perigord region in France, where the Perigord variety of the black truffle is native.

Simba, eager for a hug, pulls up at the base of a tree.

“Show me,” yells Jayson.

Simba paws at the ground proudly to show where the aroma is wafting.

“Good boy,” says Jayson as he scruffs up Simba’s coat affectionately.

The hunting group eagerly approaches to discover our first truffle find as part of The Majura Valley Experience.  The Truffle Hunt here at the Truffle Farm is one stop on The Majura Valley Experience held during The Truffle Festival.

We touch, we taste, we fall in love with Simba (unfortunately, I’m told I can’t pack him in my suitcase, he is far too valuable).  We are taught what to look for when choosing a premium truffle (and it’s not in a jar bought from Aldi!).

Jayson explains fresh mature truffles should be firm to touch.  Almost all truffles will have a small nick to show the colour, black with white marbling is what you are looking for.  They come in all shapes and sizes and you should smell a strong aroma – an earthy sweet smell.

Simba finds almost 1kg of beautifully fresh truffles during today’s hunt and amasses loads of hugs along the way.   We stop by the pantry on the farm on our way out to stock up on truffle honey, truffle cheese and of course, one of the prized Perigord truffles.  I’m already dreaming about the truffled eggs I will be whipping up in my kitchen next weekend for breakfast.

From the The Truffle Farm, The Majura Valley Experience takes us to Mount Majura Vineyard.  We are treated to truffle infused brie and a matched wine tasting.  The Silirian, named after the period 430 million years ago which gave the rock of the region, is zesty in style and creamy in texture.  It’s would be best served as an aperitif.  The wine flight moves onto the highlight of the day, a 1996 museum Chardonnay.  A vibrant golden colour, the wine still has plenty of life in it with melon notes and just a hint of oak, unexpected for a wine of this age.  The 1996 Chardonnay is only available for tasting as part of The Majura Valley Experience, an excellent reason to book the tour. 

The final stop today is Pod Food in Pialligo for a 3-course truffle infused lunch with matched wines.  Canberra’s hidden culinary gem is nestle in behind a beautiful garden in the Pialligo nursery area.  The 1930’s cottage is fully restored to offer a cosy dining experience.  I love how, even in the chilly winter month, the deck is encased in clear blinds, offering a view of the lush green garden, while remaining snug under the heaters.

Truffles are definitely the hero of the menu with the truffled butter and sour dough getting the tastebuds salivating.  The creamy, salty spread is packed full of earthy truffle flavour, a heady kick-starter for lunch. 

The Pialligo Jerusalem artichoke soup with the truffle cream fraiche is delicate and light and deliciously comforting food.  The main course of confit duck leg with a truffled egg is exciting.  The egg, cooked at 62 degrees for 45 minutes has the the creamy consistency of aioli and is infused with the truffle.

Almost at the point of being too full to eat another mouthful, I am presented with the dessert, an apple and Pialligo quince with truffle ice-cream and truffle rice pudding.  For some added theatre, the truffle honey pearls are spooned on, cascading over the dish.  The ice-cream is simply divine, like no ice-cream I have ever tasted.  Sweet and savoury, creamy and a sophisticated earthy essence.

The Majura Valley Experience is part of Canberra’s Truffle Festival, which runs July through to August.  There are loads of fabulous restaurants using local truffles on the menu throughout the festival and plenty of events to experience the joy of the truffle.

One local chef celebrating all things truffle is Francesco Balestrieri at Joe’s Bar at East Hotel.  In fact, I bumped into him out at The Truffle Farm picking up some fresh Canberra truffles for his menu.   Francesco is serving a smoked burrata topped with shaved truffles.  The creamy oozy and decadent mozzarella is made from cows milk and cream is the perfect accompaniment to the fresh pungent deliciously funky fungus.

At Pialligo Estate Farmhouse Restaurant, the kitchen team is serving Sommerlad heritage chicken with sweet potato, cashew and local truffle.  A seriously refined dish, balancing gorgeous winter ingredients in a spectacular setting.  Make sure you request a seat by the veggie garden with views out to the Brindabella ranges.     

The Truffle Festival plays host to many events and dinners over the coming months, head to their website for all the information.

Virgin Australia flies direct to Canberra every day, from Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Gold Coast with connecting flights available from other domestic airports. Search and book flights to start planing your foodie getaway. 

Alana Lowes was a guest of East Hotel and Visit Canberra.

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