Dusk Masthead

Review: Majura Valley Experience

Michelle Brotohusodo

Winter in Canberra. While it makes some lament the cold and long for summer, others enjoy the excuse to get out their coats and boots, or eat hearty food.  Whichever camp you belong to, there is no denying that Canberra in winter can be beautiful. I’m talking about those days where the air is crisp and clear, the sky is beautifully blue, and the sunrises and sunsets are magnificent. Last Sunday, I discovered that one of the best ways to spend a winter’s day in Canberra is to go on the Majura Valley Experience.

The aim of the Majura Valley Experience is for participants to enjoy and experience some of Canberra’s best local produce. There are three parts to it: a truffle hunt at French Black Truffles of Canberra, truffled brie with matching wines at Mount Majura Vineyard and a three course truffle lunch at Pod Food. So it was that Ros Hull (HerCanberra’s fabulous movie reviewer) and I found ourselves at French Black Truffles of Canberra on a gorgeous wintery day.

MVE_trufferie

French Black Truffles of Canberra trufferie.

We and the others in our group were greeted by Jayson Mesman, manager of the trufferie (truffle farm), and his assistant, Paige. Jayson gave us an introduction into how the trufferie was started by Sherry McArdle-English and her husband Gavin, as well as some background about truffles themselves and the industry in Australia (it’s a tough one—of 500 hectares of trufferies, only 17 hectares have produced truffles).

Jayson then brought out what we were all there to see—the black diamonds (as French black or Périgord truffles are often called). For those of you who are familiar with them, you’ll know that they have quite a distinctive smell. The majority of our group had never smelt a truffle before, so it was interesting to hear what people described it like. Suggestions included oysters and scallops, and Jayson told us about some of the others he’d heard, including molasses, beetroot, and ‘sex, death, and dirt’.

An A grade black truffle this size is worth about $250.

An A grade black truffle this size is worth about $250.

Now we knew what we were looking for and what they smelt like, we moved on to the really fun bit—the truffle hunt. Jayson has a team of five gorgeous dogs (truffle dogs Samson, Simba, Nala, and Willow, and guard dog Bear), and two very cute pigs (Winnie and Piglet).

Winnie and Piglet the truffle pigs.

Winnie and Piglet the truffle pigs.

Our hunt was led by Willow, a very sweet chocolate Labrador who everyone instantly fell in love with. Jayson gave us some more information about the trufferie, including what trees it had (oak and hazelnut), and he and Willow showed us how to hunt for truffles. In summary, Willow sniffs out the location of a truffle and taps the ground to show Jayson where it is. Jayson then checks the maturity of the truffle by digging up and smelling some of the earth around it, and if it’s mature, he digs it up.

Willow watching as Jayson carefully digs up her find.

Willow watching as Jayson carefully digs up her find.

We learned very quickly that it takes a trained nose and eye to be able to find truffles and determine if they’re ready. Where some people might see a clump of dirt, those in the know can tell the difference—very important when digging so as to not cut into the very expensive truffle!

What a freshly dug up truffle looks like.

What a freshly dug up truffle looks like.

After Willow found a few more truffles, we headed back to the shed, where Jayson washed the truffles and explained the grading system to us. He also explained the different ways that truffles can be used with food, including shaving it on dishes or infusing other foods with them. We were each presented with two truffle-infused eggs to take home and cook ourselves (mine were breakfast the next day, so delicious). If you want to read a more detailed account of the truffle hunt process, you can read about my experience truffle hunting with Jayson and Samson last year here.

Buzzing from the truffle hunt, Ros and I then headed over to Mount Majura Vineyard for a more leisurely activity—eating cheese and drinking wine. We were greeted by Cellar Door Manager, the lovely Kate Hibberson, who set us up at a table in the sun. Kate then brought over slices of truffled brie, and explained how she had infused them. The truffles are delivered on Thursday, and Kate slices the wheel of brie in half, puts a layer of shaved truffle in the middle and puts it back in the fridge so the truffle can infuse the cheese (at least 48 hours). Kate takes the brie out of the fridge two hours before it’s served, to let it come to room temperature, the optimum for serving brie (note: this is why you have to book for this! Optimum brie!).

Truffle infused brie.

Truffle infused brie.

Kate then brought out matching Mount Majura wines: a 2012 ‘Silurian’ Sparkling, a 2013 Chardonnay, and a 2013 Pinot Noir. As you may know, I’m not much of a wine drinker (due to my almost non-existent alcohol tolerance), but even I couldn’t help taking sips of the Silurian, it was really nice. Ros also really liked it, describing it as crisp and delicious with a really clean finish. She also later declared that out of the three it went best with the brie.

Truffled brie with matching Mount Majura wines.

Truffled brie with matching Mount Majura wines.

As a self-professed non-Chardy drinker, Ros described the Chardonnay as a little bit sharp, but I remember that another friend really liked it when we went to Mount Majura Vineyard during the Fireside Festival last year. As for the Pinot Noir, Ros said it had a light but nice nose, there was a bit of spice in it, and it had a nice smooth finish.

Mount Majura Vineyard is really the place to be to enjoy those perfect Canberra winter days. Ros and I were so relaxed chatting while basking in the sun and enjoying the view that we completely lost track of time and ran later than expected to our next stop, Pod Food.

Mount Majura Vineyard on a perfect Canberra winter day.

Mount Majura Vineyard on a perfect Canberra winter day.

Upon arriving at Pod Food, we found that it was busy—really busy. And lovely and toasty warm inside. As we were shown to our table, I peered around to see what other people were eating. While I knew we were there for the truffle lunch, it never hurts to get ideas for next time! Ros and I had no idea what we were going to have, so we both looked eagerly at the menu (ok, I did, Ros looked at it like a normal person) on our table. It all sounded delicious and truffly.

First up we were presented with some sourdough with truffle butter. The sourdough was great, firm but squashy (ok, not a very technical or sophisticated description but you know what I mean), with a nice crust and taste. I love butter and truffles, so I slathered it on my piece of bread. Ros noted that the smell of the butter was stronger than the taste at first, but then the flavour hits.

Sourdough bread with truffle butter.

Sourdough bread with truffle butter.

Our entrée was Portobello mushrooms with truffled goats cheese, mushroom cream, kale, onion powder, and kale powder. This smelt and looked incredible, and tasted even better. While I love mushrooms, I don’t really like goats cheese, but all mixed together it just worked. Ros, on the other hand, loves goats cheese, and she said all the elements separately were nice, but together they were fantastic. The goats cheese was creamy, the mushrooms were cooked perfectly and I loved the mushroom cream so much I used some of my bread to scrape the bits I couldn’t get with my fork, to make sure I got every last bit.

Portobello mushrooms with truffled goats cheese, mushroom cream, and kale.

Portobello mushrooms with truffled goats cheese, mushroom cream, and kale.

After a brief hiatus (which was needed, the entrée was very rich), our mains arrived: Majura pine smoked duck breast with a Jerusalem artichoke and potato gallette, mustard, periguex jus, and pear. This. Was. Amazing. The presentation was beautiful, and the taste was out of this world. The duck was pink and cooked perfectly, the smoky flavour was distinguishable but not overwhelming, the gallette was delicious and the periguex jus sauce was to die for. Ros’ verdict was ‘yummy and sweet and then you get the smoke and it’s just amazing’. The lunch also came with a glass of Mount Majura wine, so Ros was very pleased that her favourite 2013 Graciano was on offer, and went very well with the duck.

Pine smoked duck breast.

Pine smoked duck breast.

To finish, we were presented with a rhubarb crumble with truffle custard, licorice, and vanilla bean ice cream. This day was the first time Ros had smelt or tasted truffles proper, and she said she was surprised at how well the creamy custard went with them, given its seafoody, earthy taste and smell, but it really did. She said the rhubarb was really nice, a change in palate from the cream, and it all balanced really well. I think her description is better than mine, so that’s what we thought of the dessert.

Rhubarb crumble.

Rhubarb crumble.

We are lucky in Canberra to have such easy access to one of the world’s most highly prized foods (well, it’s more a flavour enhancer), so I suggest you make the most of it! There are lots of events on as part of this year’s Truffle Festival, but I would really recommend the Majura Valley Experience as a great way to get the whole overview, from paddock to plate. And if you’re from out of town, a number of hotels have partnered with the Truffle Festival, so why not make a weekend of it? One of these hotels is the Crowne Plaza Canberra, which is only a 15 minute drive to French Black Truffles of Canberra, and less than a 5 minute walk to the CBD (and my favourite store, Shop Handmade!). You can find out more about accommodation here.

Michelle and Ros attended as guests of the Majura Valley Experience. We thank French Black Truffles of Canberra, Mount Majura Vineyard and Pod Food for an absolutely wonderful day.

The essentials
What: Majura Valley Experience
Where: French Black Truffles of Canberra, Mount Majura Vineyard, and Pod Food
When: Thursday-Sunday from 6 July until 9 August 2015
Cost: $165 per person for all three events, Wednesday hunt & lunch only $135 per person, Thursday-Sunday winery & lunch only $95 per person
Contact: Email Kate at Mount Majura Vineyard, phone (02) 6262 3070 or 0411 107 745
Web: www.podfood.com.au/events

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Michelle Brotohusodo

Michelle moved to Canberra vowing to stay for two years, tops. 10 years later, she’s a bona fide Canberra convert. When she’s not working in her day job as a public servant, she’s enjoying Canberra’s culinary delights or finding fun things to do/see in and around town.

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