Mr Eats World and I have a thing for subterranean fungi. So much so that back in the day, and struggling with infertility, we compensated for our lack of offspring with a lot of fine dining and many freshly shaved truffles. Indeed, it was over a truffle-laden degustation dinner at Claude’s that we made Raffles, so to speak.
You see, it took an army of medical pro’s, a needle habit to rival the most dedicated junkie, a petri dish, much swearing and huge wads of filthy lucre for us to produce Raffles and Sugarpuff. And on this particular night, in a weird coincidence our wedding night, we were in the midst of a cycle of IVF hell. During our 10 second registry office ceremony (we’d already had a Buddhist ceremony in Thailand so this was a legal technicality) our doc called to inform us that my ovarian hens had laid ahead of schedule and it was time for the final trigger. At 11pm. On the dot.
For those of you sensible folk who create your children the standard way, Trigger, as well as being Roy Rogers’s horse, is the final step in the baby battery farming process. It’s the injection that releases the eggs and – requiring as it does the mixing of liquid with powder, a large syringe and self injection – it isn’t really the kind of thing one does in a three-hat restaurant. Unless you’re us.
We weren’t missing dinner! So we packed Trigger in an esky bag (just in case) and stuffed our faces at speed in an attempt to be home by 11pm.
Having explained the urgency to the supportive wait staff we were nine courses down by 10.30 whilst other patrons leisurely chewed on course five and watched us like we were gluttonous Olympians. At 10.35 a waiter valiantly leapt head first into Oxford Street traffic to hail a cab. At 10.52 we raced (well, waddled as we were stuffed with several tonnes of freshly shaved truffle) through the door, ready to take the plunge with that big scary needle in the comfort of our living room and, thankfully, not the toilet of a salubrious restaurant.
Funnily enough, when we met our tiny embryo for the first time a few days later we thought he looked exactly like a slice of Perigord truffle. And for the next nine-months the divine group of expanding cells that would become Raffles was simply known as The Truffle.
So, on a sunny winter Saturday five years later, we aren’t all that surprised to see our wee whack-job on all fours, bum to the breeze, sniffing intently around the roots of a hazelnut tree.
It turns out that the truffle-infused Raffles is as enamoured with his gestational namesake as we are.
We’re visiting Canberra for some family fun and have found ourselves at Terra Preta Truffles with our BYO truffle pig to celebrate the Canberra Truffle Festival with a truffle hunt. It’s Bastille day eve so the perfect timing for hunting the delicious French Black Truffles that hide in the earth around us.
We’re greeted at the truffiere by the spectacular sight of an enormous slab of brie layered with wads of the prized black truffles.
We devour it greedily around a campfire-pit while Raffles is briefed by Kate & Peter, Terra Preta’s lovely trufflieres that there are dogs to do the sniffing and he can stick to the bi-pedal thing.
Dogs have almost entirely replaced pigs as truffle-hunters in modern times. Not only are pigs harder to train and tend to scoff their finds, it is alleged that the scent of the truffle make pigs a little frisky as it mimics that of a pig-in-heat. I’m pleased to meet the hounds because just personally, I prefer my truffles unmolested.
Before we enter the hazelnut grove we’ll need to walk through a lime tray (part of a biosecurity boot process in place to prevent contamination of the patch from foreign dirt) and we’re told not to make eye contact or interact with the dogs. Raffles is so excited at the prospect of the gastronomical treasure hunt he leaps into the lime tray and breaks into a wild dance.
As the hunt begins we keep our overexcited offspring a respectful distance as super truffle dog, Sal, a lovely Labrador Kelpie cross, and her young apprentice, Shadow, a Labrador Dachshund cross that resembles a mutant fur seal, sniff with doggy determination between the rows of hazelnut trees.
It takes no more than a minute before they’re patting at the ground enthusiastically.
Trufflier Kate beckons Raffles to join her and the hounds, handing him a trowel to dig up the first beautiful French black truffle of the day.
An unmistakable aroma fills the air as it comes up out of the ground and Mr Eats World and I swoon.
Raffles is so thrilled at the sight of the enormous potato shaped fungus that, if he were any other child, you’d think he’d dug up solid chocolate. But when it comes to food, Raffles is no ordinary kid and he’s already making cunning plans for the fragrant beauty, including the creation of a truffle saucisson and truffle roasted chook.
Over the next hour we all take our turn to dig up a truffle or two from the earth.
Except for Sugarpuff who is as happy hot-wiring a nearby tractor and filling her pockets with fallen hazelnuts that she dubs “fuffles”.
A bucket full of the real thing later and it’s time for the talented truffle hounds to be rewarded with cuddles from their adoring fans.
Finally allowed to have her way with the perky pups, Sugarpuff covers them in a hail of kisses and cuddles, which they return with doggy fervour. For her it’s the highlight of the day, and quite possibly her life. For Raffles, it’s digging for buried treasure. For Mr Eats World and I, it’s an amazing lunch of soup, scallop pies and ice cream all spiked with wads of truffles.
Seriously, truffle ice-cream! And it’s genius!
Hot spiced apple juice and truffle-studded marshmallows roasted on sticks over an open fire end a perfectly delicious day.
But it’s not over. Wrapped with as much care as a newborn, one of those truffles is coming home with us.
And, like Raffles and Sugarpuff before it, this little truffle too will end up residing in my belly for a time, only this time we won’t need a specialist to get it there.