It's a frosty winter's morning at Black Cat Truffles in the central Victorian highlands and the sun's weak rays are tinting the rows of alternating French and English oaks with an almost ethereal golden glow.

The stage has been set to welcome ‘treasure hunters with a difference’ through the gates of the 1,000 tree truffiere (French for truffle plantation) and everyone’s excitement and anticipation are at full throttle. Truffle lovers and the truffle curious alike, are met with delighted tail-wagging enthusiasm by truffle dogs Lottie and Winston. They’re desperate to don their working harnesses and lead the group on a forage through the trees to uncover today’s haul of black Périgord truffles – Tuber melanosporum – the fascinating, elusive and indulgent culinary diamonds nestled amongst the complex root system below the oaks.

Canine olfactory skills engaged and truffle aroma quickly detected beneath certain trees, our hunters huddle expectantly together to help prize the curious knobbly-shaped funghi from their subterranean worlds. Like genuine buried treasure, these nuggets must be extracted with care and patience, as well as seeking out the expertise of a trained human nose to first determine whether the truffle is fully ‘ripe’. If not, the truffle will be left in the ground for another few days before being harvested. The dogs can sniff out a ripening truffle 200 millimetres beneath the surface. Still, it takes the more discriminating nose of truffle farmer, Tom Eadie, to ensure that these rare delicacies aren’t removed prematurely. It’s worth the wait to enjoy them fully at their optimal heady and distinctive flavour.

With a basketful of muddy potato-like clumps now proudly collected (looking, at this stage, nothing like the luxurious ‘king of the kitchen’ reputation enjoyed by truffles!), happy hunters return to the warmth of the café, where they are immediately hit by the unique and powerful fragrance of fresh truffles in action. Guests warm their icy fingers with a mug of spicy mulled wine or jump straight into the tasting part of their adventure, with a glass of bubbles or a crisp local wine to accompany the first of five small dishes. Each of the ‘tastings’ has a strong truffle focus, prepared with lashings of cream, cheese, eggs, butter and other wicked ingredients, which are spectacularly enhanced by the musty sweetness and funky mushroom-like flavour of truffle. The degustation menu begins with crackers slathered with a truffle-infused creamy white cheese and includes a roasted vegetable soup drizzled with truffle aioli and sprinkled with grated truffle, crunchy baguette liberally smeared with truffle butter, a truffled pasta, risotto or potato dish and finally, a delicious dessert topped with mascarpone with a generous serving of truffled honey.

To appreciate the magic of these intriguing funghi and understand why foodies around the world so covet them, join a truffle hunt and tastings. It’s a fun, informative and palette-pleasing experience, indeed in a class of its own.

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About the author

Kristen Simpson
Kristen Simpson, Black Cat Truffles
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Kristen Simpson, and her husband Tom Eadie, are truffle farmers. They left their busy Melbourne lives just before the pandemic for a new adventure. Tom's a geologist and has fully embraced the farming challenge and Kristen loves to use her background to introduce as many fellow truffle lovers as possible to the magical world of these fascinating funghi, and to their beautiful property.