By
9 Dec 2009 - 12:19 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

The deer is unstrung from the black wattle tree where it hangs, and is thrown in the back of the Mafia Staff Car, Nick’s black four-wheel drive. It’ll tour a fair part of the state this week.

First stop, truffling. We head north to a truffiere, a truffle farm not so far from Cressy near Launceston. It’s a bleak day, which isn’t surprising. Truffles, the black, subterranean fungi that are famed and expensive, mature in the colder months. This is certainly cold. And occasionally rainy.

Peter Cooper from Perigord Truffles leads us into the grove, a 13-year-old plot of trees where each year the truffle harvest is rich. The roots of English and French oak, along with chestnut trees, are inoculated with the spores of tuber melanosporum, the true, winter black truffle. With some science, some appropriate weather, and a little bit of luck and a lot of magic, after a few years the truffles will appear under the trees. The only difficulty, then, is to find them.

Cooper’s mob uses a dog. And find truffles quickly. Plenty of them; a simple scratch of the dirt giving away their location, the actual harvesting done by the dog’s handler. First the handlers smell the earth, and if happy that the truffle is ripe, that it emits that trademark, sexy perfume, they dig it up and record the location. These beauties fetch over $2000 a kilogram in the local market. Sometimes more.

We take our truffles and our dead deer and head to a well-regarded foodster and sixth generation Tasmanian to find out how to cook the venison. John Bignell owns Thorpe Farm, in the state’s Central Highlands, and he rears fallow deer and sheep, as well as growing wasabi, jerusalem artichokes, salsify, wheat and other grains. He’s also the best blue cheese maker in the land, his sheep milk blue as good as any you’d find in Europe. It’s his deer butchering and cooking skills, however, that we’ve come for this time.

The menu? An open fire. A few choice leg cuts from the deer. A truffle, some fresh horseradish, and a wintry day. Amazing? Yes. Venison so tender you could cut it with a spoon. Horseradish shredded over the top, and the finest slivers of the primal, funky, incredible truffle. Great? You shoulda been there.

We leave John and head to the mountains. The trout season is just open, and we’ve been invited up to a shack by a lake to fly fish, drink whisky and tell lies by a legendary local distiller, Bill Lark. We find him digging peat in his own bog, the stuff he uses to give his drop a smoky favour. We do mightily well with the whisky and the lies, but the fish elude us. There’s another truffle meal, though, and this time we use the peat to make it. I sneak a corner of the truffle home and make a truffle omelette.