Wednesday 6 April 2011

Ugly is only skin deep*

Who knew? WA has perfect conditions for growing truffles, and both here at Stonebarn and at the Wine & Truffle Co near Manjimup they're enjoying early success in growing these odd, mysterious lumps on the roots of oak and hazelnut trees. The whole business is very secretive, but Megan scrabbled around in the dirt to show us the fungus forming just under the surface of the soil. Immature yet, but when they're ready, Sunny the Super-Sniffer will put her paw on the spot and the harvesters following behind her on their knees will ease them out of the soil to be sent all over the world. (They use dogs here to sniff them out, having noticed that the pig-handlers in France were usually missing several fingers from wrestling the truffles away from the eager porkers. Fair enough.)

We ate a selection of yummy truffle-scented goodies and then drove to Pemberton where Wendy took us on a discovery tour through the woods to look at towering karri trees and then to see a surprising system of sand dunes in the bush, moving inland in slow-motion. It was Lawrence of Arabia country up there, especially in more 30-degree heat, so it was pleasant to get down onto the beach where the Southern Ocean was roaring in onto the sand, un-civilised by the prissy Leeuwin Current that warms the sea elsewhere along the coast. It misses this bit, so if you were foolish enough to step into this roiling water, you'd know straight away that it was all that separated you from Antarctica. (Also, there are sharks.)

It was exciting coming back, as Wendy thrashed the trusty Landcruiser through the soft sand, lurching dramatically as we squeezed through a narrow pass at the top of a dune. Some city boys ahead of us weren't so expert, and got stuck. They were willing to accept advice, though, and once they had let some air out of their tyres under Wendy's supervision, managed to grind up the slope and away. It gave us something to talk about over our bbq dinner in the woods as the light faded. Driving in Australia: it's a challenge, whether it's traversing the endless Nullarbor as the other guests just had, or simply turning a corner on the driveway to the lodge, and finding a couple of roos sitting there looking aggrieved.

*T-shirt slogan in the Wine & Truffle Co shop.

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