Truffle trail with a city Vue

The hunt for truffles is as rewarding and earthy as the taste. And Vue de Monde's Shannon Bennett knows exactly where to look and how to cook the elusive delicacy.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, goes bush with Vue de Monde's Shannon Bennett and strikes mouth-watering black gold.

Dear Reader, what are your favourite things about winter? Is it the warming food, coats or boots? Yes to all of those for me but also add winter’s short lived black diamonds, aka truffles, to the list.

I’m standing at Vue de Monde in Melbourne, about to partake in a masterclass held with Audi ambassador Shannon Bennett...

The Chestnut Hill farm owned by Croatian born couple Charlie and Ithaca has what has been said to be one of the most prolific truffle growing farms in Australia. Planting the hazelnut and oak trees with the truffle spores in 2003 as a sideline hobby for their wine business, they found their 210 trees on 1.5 acres produced a surprising amount of truffles...

At the farm we meet Spice, the truffle dog. Trained to detect ripe truffles, Spice is a sought after truffle dog. Indeed, we first encountered Spice and her owner trainer Sue last year at Chateau Yering in the Yarra Valley. Spice has since had a prized litter and Shannon is the proud owner of one of the litter who he is training to be a truffle dog. To train a truffle dog, you introduce the distinctive smell of truffle to the dog and associate it with play and treats. They have an advantage over pigs who were traditionally and first used to hunt truffles as the pigs love to eat the truffles whereas dogs can be trained to hand it over once found.

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Wearing gum boots (a last minute not very stylish purchase late last night!) we set out with Spice, Ziva a truffle dog in training and Spice’s offspring Trixie to hunt for truffles. She darts off and before long, she has located a truffle. Each tree has a brulee (meaning burnt) area which is a ring around it where grass no longer grows and this is where the truffles can be found.

Shannon lays a cushion down and bends down to sniff the ground. The scent is good. A dog may lead you to a truffle but you still have to sniff the ground to see whether it is ripe enough or not. Spice is about one season away from being able to detect perfectly ripe truffles. The season is short lasting just a couple of months but she is also trained off season to be able to detect them.

Getting down on their knees, they dig at it with a wooden spoon (for the uninitiated they won’t be able to cut into a precious truffle). Paring back dirt, much like excavating a fossil from the ground, they remove enough dirt to be able to gently lift it out of the ground. This one is enormous, almost 250g and worth about $280. It has a strong aroma and we take this back to be gently cleaned to reveal the beautiful black cross hatch pattern. At Vue de Monde, these are further cleaned with electrolysed water...

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It’s a 40 minute drive back to Vue de Monde at the Rialto for our truffle lunch. With their own check-in at the bottom of the building, we are escorted to the elevator where they guide us up to the 55th floor.

Only bar or restaurant patrons can get there as there is no 55th floor button and after some ear popping speed we arrive at the top. The view is magnificent and reminds me immediately of those sky high Hong Kong bars where it’s an all-expansive city view. The MCG sits on one side and Phillip Island in another direction. The bar is a mix of luxe baroque furniture with gold chaise lounges, large hard plastic clouds sit atop a shiny bar...

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