lack AUTUMN MAGIC Following a renaissance of foraging and wild foods, our native truffles are on the path from a little-known curiosity to an exciting ingredient, sought after by top chefs around the country. From truffle-hunting experiences in the woods of Sussex and Wiltshire to mouth-watering dishes served in snug country pubs, the English truffle season has a truly intoxicating aroma Text by Karolina Wiercigroch Grab the dogs!” Melissa shouts and starts sprinting. She navigates between rows of thin beeches, their rusty leaves shimmering in the low October sun, and is the first one to reach the spot where two very excited Cocker Spaniels are sniffing the ground. They’re ready to dig but, this time, Melissa is faster. She gently shifts the dogs away and starts breaking the damp ground. Soon, she’s presenting a handful of round, plum-sized balls, coal-black and warty. Their scent is lightly floral, sweet and nutty, with earthy undertones of raw beetroot. Truffles. Not in the hills of Piedmont, not in the Périgord region of southwest France. Melissa Waddingham has been hunting for these delicacies in the grounds of Sussex for the last 15 years. The world’s most celebrated fungi, white truffles — tuber magnatum — often associated with the Italian town of Alba, are found in the limestone-rich soils all the way between Italy and the Black Sea, with some exceptional ones hunted in the forests of Croatian Istria, Southern Hungary and Serbia. Black winter truffles – tuber melanosporum – sometimes called after the French region of Périgord, are native to eastern Spain, southern France and northern and central Italy. Today, most of black winters are farmed in truffle orchards worldwide, and 34 BritishTravelJournal.com
“ There’s nothing like driving back from a hunt with a kilo of truffles in my bag ” the Australian inverted seasons satiate European markets in the summer. And while the two species – magnatum and melanosporum – are unanimously prized in the culinary world, they are just the tip of the truffle iceberg. “People think only Italy and France grow truffles, but we have around 38 species here in the UK,” says Melissa. The ones important from a gourmet perspective, black summer and black autumn, are in fact biologically the same species (tuber aestivum), though are often described as two distinct kinds. Summer truffles, usually found between April and September, have a paler inside and a vanishingly light aroma. Black autumns, also called Burgundy, mature in hilly forests between September and December. Firm to touch, with a marbled, milk-chocolate-coloured interior, they hold a much stronger aroma of flowers, boiled sweetcorn and toasted hazelnuts. As with wine, the terroir plays a significant role in their flavour; the same truffle will develop a different smell in various soils, regions and weather conditions. “There’s nothing like driving back from a hunt with a kilo of truffles in my bag," Melissa smiles. "Their aroma is an instant mood enhancer.” She always whiffs the soil after taking out the BritishTravelJournal.com 35
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