French author Alexandre Dumas [1802-1870], of The Three Musketeers’ fame, wrote of them: ‘The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord.’
SLOW Food Perth enjoyed a highly rewarding collaboration with the Mundaring Truffle Festival, which was held in the Darling Range east of Perth, Western Australia, on Sat 02-Sun 03 Aug 2008.
Mundaring is a small hills’ community above and away from Perth’s suburban sprawl down on ‘the flat’, as the city is called. One of the Perth region’s better restaurants – The Loose Box, owned by French-born and trained chef Alain Fabreques – operates here. Alain was an inaugural investor in the Manjimup Wine & Truffle Company, based at Manjimup in Western Australia’s south west, and as a result of this investment and his use of truffles at The Loose Box, he proposed the idea of an annual festival to celebrate the black perigord truffle. The Mundaring shire council picked up this proposal and held an inaugural festival in 2007 which attracted about 2000 people to a series of masterclasses, a fine food market, and associated art events.
In May 2008 Slow Food Perth was approached by Jane Cornes, Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine correspondent in Western Australia – and a member of the truffle festival organising crew – to host a Slow Food ‘long table luncheon’ as part of the 2008 festival. As we talked, our participation evolved from a luncheon on the Saturday to a Slow Food information, education, promotion and Terra Madre fundraising event on the Sunday.
The luncheon was relatively easy! With the very generous assistance of stalwart Slow Food Perth member and Terra Madre 2006 chef-delegate Vincenzo Velletri, we developed a Terra Madre ‘down-the-road’ menu – Mundaring itself not being a farming area from which we could readily source local, seasonal produce to any extent in mid-winter. Slow Food Perth co-leader Pauline Tresise devised an appetiser of marinated zucchini, goat milk feta and sun-dried tomatoes; the latter being the ‘leftovers’ from a highly-successful passata workshop held by Slow Food Perth on ‘the flat’ in February 2008, when case-loads of beautiful roma tomatoes were in season.
For the entrÃ©e, Vincenzo created wood-fired bread from flour produced from wheat grown by Terra Madre 2006 producer-delegate Terri Lloyd. This was transformed into a bruschetta trio using fresh, local chicken livers from The Naked Butcher in Mundaring – a fantastic source of nitrate-free organic bacon, too – local field mushrooms, and roma tomatoes from a grocer-donor. From Hillside Meats, a specialist sheep butchery at Narrogin in the Upper Great Southern, which had previously supported the convivium at another event in March, we sourced Stirling Range lamb produced by a farmers’ co-operative in the lower Great Southern. This became a spezzatina finished in Vincenzo’s mobile wood-fired oven in front of the luncheon guests. While this was cooking, we prepared polenta in a an old galvanised copper. For dessert, Vincenzo created a vanilla pannacotta from cream produced by another Slow Food Perth supporter – Bannister Downs cow-milk dairy at Northcliffe. Each course was topped with fresh, shaved, black Manjimup truffle.
The food was wonderfully complemented by Hills’ wines from three selected vignerons – sparkling pinot noir, semillon, rose, cabernet merlot, shiraz and shiraz liqueur – with generous assistance given by Slow Food Perth members and Cosham Wines’ principals Maxinne and Rod Sclanders. With 15 Slow Food members and friends as volunteer ‘platers’ and waiters, we served lunch to 124 guests in a marquee – hung with Terra Madre banners – at the festival site. It was fantastic co-operative work by which people learned about Terra Madre, good, clean and fair food, truffles, the significance of small producers in rural communities and the wider world, and conviviality.
The following day – Sunday – we transformed the marquee into a Slow Food Perth information and food market and cafÃ©. This coincided with the truffle festival’s fine food market involving 40 stallholders in Mundaring’s Sculpture Park. The Slow Food Perth marquee hosted blind-fold food tastings for children, with help from nutritionist Stephanie McFaull, the making and cooking of persian sweetmeats by an Iranian Ã©migrÃ© cook Farengeez Ahmadi, a static promotion for the 2008 international year of the potato, and a ‘brain food’ tunnel of 60 metres of black fabric hung with 40 printed ‘food memories’ – from recollections of eating English boarding school blanc mange (!) to barbequed king brown snake.
We sought to highlight food traditions by inviting the Mount Helena and Mundaring-Parkerville branches of the Country Women’s Association to make and sell the classic sponge for which the CWA in Australia is famous, and to promote the CWA cookery book, a source of inspiration and knowledge in many Australian country kitchens. Irene Verteramo from the food distribution charity Foodbank demonstrated the preparation of good food with just a handful of fresh ingredients. Terra Madre 2006 delegates Bruce and Jane Wilde drove 300km to milk sheep and show children one source of real food – much to the consternation of the local environmental health inspector – and Jane made and sold fresh sheep milk cheese. Baristas Fiori Coffee – whose principals are Slow Food members – made and sold copious, fabulous specialist coffee, from which the proceeds are to be donated to Slow Food Perth’s participating Wembley Downs primary school kitchen garden project. Slow Food committee members made and sold biscuits and Vincenzo Velletri created fresh pizza to raise funds for Western Australia’s Terra Madre 2008 delegate airfares. And the spirit of making good food accessible was encapsulated by one small boy’s question – ‘Why are you trying to shave a stone onto my pizza?’ – when we used fresh Manjimup truffle left over from the Saturday Terra Madre luncheon on pizza for anyone who wanted to taste this extraordinary fungus.
Slow Food’s collaboration with this event was highly successful. It involved about 40 volunteers over two days and took three months of part-time planning. We raised $11,000, spent about $5000, and so contributed $6000 to the Terra Madre fundraising account. It was enormously rewarding, bringing together, voluntarily, people from disparate backgrounds to promote good, clean and fair food and to enable the community – we reckon nearly every one of the 10,000 people who attended the two-day event went through the Slow Food marquee; it certainly felt like it! – to celebrate and understand a little better those things which sustain us all – food, and the people to produce and prepare it.
We would also like to acknowledge the support of Slow Food Australia working group chairman Leonie Furber, and her husband James, at this event.
Mundaring Truffle Festival 2008
Foodbank Western Australia
Country Women’s Association of Western Australia