On our way back home from Orange we detoured via the heritage township of Millthorpe. Everyone recommended we go. By all accounts there were some great places to eat and some shopping to be had.
On our way we stopped off at Millthorpe Truffles, a truffle farm, or more fancifully known as a truffière. Established by Greg and Loretto Good in 2002 when they decided to take a gamble at planting out eight hundred oak trees inoculated with the fruiting fungus tuber malenosporum, more commonly known as Perigord truffle.
I’ve never eaten truffle before but have witnessed reactions from people who reminisce their first truffle experience with the same sense of poignancy as a junkie’s first hit. And the cost of truffle is comparable to illicit drugs. Last season a kilogram of truffles fetched on average $2,000. But this doesn’t compare to their height in Europe last decade, where the price reached tops of $10,000 a kilo. And it doesn’t stop there. In 1996 a Hong Kong property tycoon paid US$160,000 for a 1.5kg rare White Alba truffle assuring the truffle the mantle of Most Absurdly Revered Fungus Of All Time.
My upbringing taught me to steer clear of expensive habits so perhaps it’s been a subconscious decision to avoid truffles for fear I may become addicted.
Being a seasonal crop, truffles had only ever been available during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter until the 1990s when an experimental farm in Tasmania turned it’s first harvest. Now with over 150 truffle growers in Australia the season extends to our winter, generally from June to the end of August.
It seems our visit to the farm is ill-timed and our chance as tasting the ‘other black gold’ will be deferred for another year. We’ve missed truffle season by a month. Nevertheless, Greg, a builder by trade, and Loretto are happy to take us for a wander through their oak grove and tell us of their idea to begin the truffière simply as a hobby. They planted their saplings in 2002 and were told to sit back for six to eight years, if not more, before their truffles would appear. One truffière in Australia planted their saplings ten years ago and are still to farm a single truffle. Greg recounts the morning just three winters in from planting when he and his father were sniffing around the base of the trees on their hands and knees and happened upon the first truffle.
Loretto can now smell when the truffles are on their way as the distinct scent wafts down from the grove and over the paddocks, which hold Greg’s other hobby- black-faced Suffolk sheep, to where she is hanging the clothes out on the line. That’s when they’ll call in a friend who owns dogs specially trained to sniff out the truffles and begin the harvest. During the season Greg and Loretta hold forage tours with truffle enthusiasts in association with Millthorpe restaurant Tonic’s chef Tony Worland who expends a lot of effort in showcasing local produce on his menus. Of course, the tour ends with a seasonal meal in the restaurant, with Greg and Loretto’s fresh truffles.
The truffle house, soon be become self contained accomodation.
Inside the truffle house || Frozen truffles that didn’t make the grade.
Greg has purpose-built a smart-looking HQ for the tours and in the off-season the space will convert to self-contained accommodation. He pulls out a container from the freezer that contain remnants of truffles that didn’t quite make the grade for commercial sale. Maybe they weren’t big enough, or there were stones encased by the truffle. Perhaps the white veining through the truffle wasn’t apparent or it was missing the intense aroma that truffles are renowned for. For Dean and I it seemed it will be as close as we are going to get to the real deal.
We say our goodbyes to Greg and Loretta and head into Millthorpe for brunch. The town surpassed our expectations as I was happily surprised by the quaint cottages and beautifully maintained buildings, such as the Grand Western Lodge and the Millthorpe train station playing host to refined business of all descriptions.
Recently restored Millthorpe train station which houses a wine tasting room.
We decide to try Tonic for brunch. While our order is taken I inquire with the waiter if they would have any fresh truffle left from the season. It’s unlikely but he’ll check. The waiter returns with our coffees and a bread and butter plate on which a small black nugget of fresh truffle sits. I’m not sure how long truffles are meant to last, but I’m told the scent is fading – it’s the last of what they have. We both lean in to have a whiff. I think it smells like mushroom. Dean disagrees, but can’t articulate what it reminds him of. Our meals arrive and we continue to eye off the truffle. I wonder how much it’s worth. More than that I wonder what it tastes like. An offer to taste isn’t forthcoming and I don’t ask since I don’t think it’ll go very well with my hollandaise sauce. It seems we’ll have to investigate next winter when they are back in season and we have some cash to pay for the privilege.
The last truffle of the season || Eggs Benedict
BLT || Oozy eggs
As we step outside I notice a little shop down the street and head over for a look see. La Boucherie is a converted butcher’s shop, which now houses a bookshop-art store-café run by two sisters, Libby and Rene Reimers. It’s a bright, modern space with a communal table from which to browse the interesting titles they stock while you sip on Single Origin coffee. I could quite easily spend another hour in there, but it’s time for us to head back to Newcastle.
We reluctantly get back in the car. We are not looking forward to the long drive home and we are also a little sad to leave a region that has exceeded our expectations. The people of Orange and its surrounding areas are to be congratulated for representing what can be achieved by regional centres to promote their strengths. In this case, incredible food and wine producers and their advocates.Share this on: