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Hail the South African truffle

Chef Caro gets all fired up over the news that truffles are coming to town.

by: Caro de Waal: Food24 | 20 May 2009

When I think of truffles, misty French forests and rugged farmers running after pigs come to mind. It's quite romantic really, a strange and edible treasure, growing in the depths of the woods alongside the fairies and elves.

With an earthy, woody flavour these lovelies taste like the forest they are grown in, and are a fungus.

Once thought to be brought to earth by lightning, these knobbly lumps have been a mystical and interesting addition to the culinary realm going back as far as 4BC.

Growing in large numbers in the French forests in the 1700’s, the peasants of the land had enjoyed many a truffled dinner, before these ethereal wonders reached the greedy plates of the nobles. And then of course they were whipped out of their common hands and placed onto the more illustrious tables of kings and queens.

Truffles soon became a highly sought after and premiumed ingredient, for only the distinguished of dinner tables.

A great delicacy was a truffled turkey. "I have wept three times in my life," Rossini (the Italian Mozart) admitted. "Once when my first opera failed. Once again, the first time I heard Paganini play the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic."

These children of the earth have long eluded the techniques of domestication, and only in recent years, since the early 1800’s, have they been able to be cultivated. Trufficulture is prevalent in France and Italy, but they are also grown all over Europe, Asia and now in the last 30 years the New World.

The man in charge
Volker Miros, of Woodford truffles has assembled a team of experts to launch commercial truffle cultivation in Southern Africa on a large scale. He first developed an interest when he learnt about the Khoi-Khoi culinary tradition of searching and collecting the white Kalahari truffle, known as the "t-nabba". And recently wild truffles have been found in the Southern Cape, assuring scientists they can be grown here.

Farmers will be provided with the inoculated trees and assisted in the setting up and managing of the orchards. They have already started planting and the first fruit of their labour will arrive in 2012, so we still have a bit of a wait. But fear not, soon we will be able to buy a South African Truffle, who knew?

Pigs won’t fly
Sadly the female swine will not be used in the snuffling out of the black gold, which is the more traditional way. Instead, trained dogs will be the beast of choice, and are less likely to eat the prize at the end of their noses.

Garth Stroebel and Paul Hartmann will be heading up a production team for these diamonds of the kitchen to include spelt pastas, butters and cheeses, that will be available locally as well as being exported abroad.

So gear up for the near future and join me as I wait with delicious anticipation for these little lumps of culinary joy.

For the time being the only product available is truffle oil, and you can find this at Melissa’s and Giovanni’s in Cape Town, and The Bread Basket in Johannesburg. It can be used in a variety of dishes and gives us a glimmer of the joy that we are soon to procure.

Try this creamy cauliflower soup with a drizzle of truffle oil, for a start, or this easy and impressive mini pancetta and avo salad.

Added to a dreamy risotto, it gives the dish an earthy and unique flavour, try my wild mushroom and truffle risotto And to really take you to foodie heaven these voluptuous truffled peaches paired with butterscotch and hazelnut ice cream.

Spoil yourself, you deserve it!

Love and piglets


- None


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