Australian Truffles


The French can be fussy about their food. Especially when it comes to truffles, that wonderful fungus more expensive than gold.
What the French don't like is that they can only dig up the delicacy in winter to serve to France's fanatical foodies. In summer, they wait and salivate.

But hold on, our winter is their summer. What if we took one of Western Australia's truffles to Paris to be served to France's best chefs when they had none?

Isn't that a bit like telling the French we have similar champagne?

So a delicate mission was mounted...the target, France's finest restaurant in the famous Champagne wine region.  On one side of the world, a fresh Manjimup truffle had to be dug up, rushed to Perth and put on a plane to Paris. On the other side, the French had to be contacted and agree to try the truffle the "Western Australian Wine and Truffle Company" claims is as good as the French truffle.  A little like rushing a donor heart across the world to a body that might reject it.truffles France

That restaurant in France's Champagne region is the renowned Chateau les Crayeres, with its Michelin-starred chef trained by Alain Ducasse, France's most celebrated chef. The chateau is the former castle of the Pommery champagne family and now the centre of social life in champagne-rich Reims (pronounced Rance).

I tried emailing the chateau, asking for a lunch booking and if they were prepared to try a fresh Australian truffle in their summer.   The curt email reply said: "Your lunch booking is at noon.”

Now time was running a bit short before the flight to Paris and I didn't want to cart a valuable truffle around the French countryside without confirmation.

So I emailed back, explaining the truffle would be only 24 hours old and might titillate their French taste buds. L’email reply said again: "Your booking is at noon."  Was there a Clouseau at the chateau? 

After a third fruitless effort at breaking the French-Australian language barrier, I phoned WA truffle boss "Wally Edwards" and told him it may be too risky, but like a true Aussie digger (of truffles) he said: "Go to France and do your best."

 australian truffles

So there we were at Perth Airport, my wife and I with a freshly unearthed truffle the size of a donor heart. It was in a small esky packed in ice and I didn't dare ask if they'd requested a police escort from Manjimup.

The first problem was Customs. When they finally decided I wasn’t a weirdo trying to smuggle out a dog dropping in an esky, the truffle as hand luggage was given the all clear. But the ice with it wasn't, being more than 100ml of potential liquid.  The truffle wouldn't survive without ice, so the only choice was a last-minute dash back to check-in to do what I dreaded...put the black gold under the plane at the mercy of French baggage handlers who love their truffles.

The next problem was the quick stop in Dubai, where I had been reading about a heightened terrorist alert.  Take-off was delayed for an hour as the captain explained some-one's suitcase had been offloaded.   Typical tiresome tourist, I thought.

Then it dawned on us what had happened when we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris that night.  Remarkably, the truffle made it but there's not much worse for women than watching the baggage carousel with that sinking feeling of no suitcase.  The bag was still back in Dubai because Customs had detected my wife’s ticking alarm clock.  They saw my wife as a potential terrorist.  I knew what they meant.

The terror I now faced was an angry wife without clothes or make-up and all shops closed.  The immaculate baggage people asked my wife's details.  "Australian tourist," I offered.  "Terror-iste?"  "No, tourist."    I could tell they weren't convinced.   

We drove grimly east for an hour to the outskirts of the Champagne region to stay the night, and I was faced with a dilemma…whether to hug the wife with no clothes or the precious truffle in the esky.  I thought of many an Aussie at home who'd faced the same choice; the wife or the esky?

After a couple of French reds I think I hugged them both, but next day I knew we were in trouble.  The much-anticipated lunch was at high noon at the celebrated Champagne chateau, but try telling that to a woman on a mission to buy French fashion.  We finally arrived at Chateau les Crayeres in Reims at 2.30, my wife resplendent in her new outfit, but my life despondent because the French take their food very seriously.

Did they know about the truffle? Would they sneer at this Australian intrusion into their world of gastronomic genius?

truffles from Australia

Patrice the perfectly-groomed Maitre d’ met us, informing us immediately that we were 2½ hours late and not interested in my wife’s international incident that had caused our delay.  Chef Didier Elena did tolerate us just enough to come out and tell us it was too late to include the truffle for the five course feast. Sacre bleu!  When I was naive enough to ask if we could try the truffle tomorrow, I was told we would have to join “le waiting list” of 20 for the next lunch.

With that, the chef took the truffle and retreated back to the kitchen.  Now, I had promised the truffle people back in Perth I would at least get a photo of their truffle’s pilgrimage to the holy grail.  When I asked Patrice le Perfect if the chef would reappear for a photo with le truffle Australien, he firmly said in a perfect French accent “No”.  So I asked the two attractive French ladies at reception.  They promptly disappeared.

Turning to Patrice, I pleaded with him for a photo with the apparently-unwanted truffle.   “Varry well” he said and then held it so far away that it would have looked ridiculous with just a hand holding the truffle on fine china.  Finally, a bemused-looking waiter was persuaded and that’s the photo you see here.  

The truffle was whisked away once more behind closed doors quicker than I could say “Au revoir”.


The lunch that followed in the beautiful restaurant was truly magnificent. Here, it’s all about the champagne, with the food created around the fine wine. We enjoyed a gorgeous meal featuring lobster-like langoustine prepared four ways, paired perfectly with champagne including Mumm de Cramant and Laurent Perrier Cuvee Brut LP.  The customers dripping with gold and Ferraris confirmed this was the place to be, but our Australian black gold was nowhere in sight

With Michelin stars in our eyes and a touch intoxicated by the ambience and champagne, we bade farewell to the luxurious Chateau les Crayeres.

A week later it hit me: what on earth happened to the truffle? 
As we flew home through Dubai I emailed my new best friend Patrice from an airline lounge and by the time we arrived in Perth 12 hours later, the celebrated chef Didier Elena had replied himself.

After intense Gallic scrutiny, he had decided the Western Australian truffle was good enough to hastily call in seven of France’s best chefs including the legendary "Alain Ducasse".  They drove or flew from Paris for lunch the next day, as the Chateau Chef infused Vollaille de Brest (poultry from the Brest region) with the delicate flavours of our suddenly-worthy Australian truffle.

This was the Chef’s exact response: 
“We made a top VIP Chef table who were present: Alain Ducasse, Eric Frechon, Jean-François Piège, Alain Senderens and a few other Chefs. Everybody was impressed to know how we can offer black truffle right in the middle of the summer?

Many thanks!   Didier Elena”

I will die a happy man, surviving a sortie into the heart of the French Resistance.

*A guest of Chateau les Crayeres for lunch 

Photo of Australian truffle exporter in France.

Accommodation France   Wine Holidays   Top Australian Truffles