Truffles are the stuff of legend in culinary circles. Earthy, pungent and exquisitely musky, this member of underground fungi family might not look like much at first sight (it looks a little like an irregular, rough-skinned potato to be quite frank), but oh heavens it makes magic on a plate in the hands of a talented chef.
UPDATE JULY ’19 – PLEASE NOTE THAT WITH THE RECENT CLOSURE OF THE FRANSCHHOEK PASS TO RESTORE DAMAGE CAUSED BY ALL THE WINTER RAIN, THIS EXPERIENCE WILL BE TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE UNTIL THE WORK IS COMPLETED.
GREAT NEWS IS THAT YOU CAN STILL ENJOY THE DELICIOUS WINE PAIRED TRUFFLE LUNCH AT ANTHONIJ RUPERT WINES BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK
Anthonij Rupert Wines in Franschhoek is the first wine estate in South Africa to both proudly cultivate and produce Black Périgord truffles on Altima Estate, their cool-climate holdings in Elandskloof near Villiersdorp. We caught up with the estate’s hospitality manager Gidi Ceatano to find out more about their exciting new truffle hunting experience.
“Altima Estate is a very special and spectacular place. Situated in the Elandskloof valley it’s largely undiscovered, and has a specific micro-climate that is rather exceptional in South Africa,” explains Gidi. “It has some of the highest vineyards in the country, which makes it particularly suitable for cool-climate wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As it so happens, that cool-climate environment is also exceptionally good for the cultivation of truffles.”
“With this unusual climate and beautiful farm, we saw the opportunity to go a little bit off the beaten track and try something new. Truffle cultivation is seen a lot in Australia and in European forests, as well as the north of Oregon – areas that are also typically wine-making areas. As such the pairing between truffles and vineyards has been well-established, so we knew it could work. It’s also a bit of a pioneer project; it’s hardly been done in South Africa before, and this made it very exciting.”
Husband-and-wife team Hanene and Coenie van Dyk stand at the helm of the truffle project on Altima Estate. They have been living on and cultivating the farm for more than 10 years now. Coenie is the farm manager and primarily responsible for the estate’s beautiful vineyards. As his wife, Hanene has always taken on a very nurturing role on the farm, cultivating beautiful gardens composed of fynbos and protea alongside the vineyards.
“This transcended into her role as resident trufelau,” says Gidi. “Hanene and Coenie travelled to Italy about four years ago to learn this age-old craft from some of the best truffle hunters in the world. In the process, they also found two little Lagotto Romagnolo doggies, which they brought along with them to become true South African truffle hunters. These original pups have now also had one or two litters, so there is now a pack of six truffle dogs on the farm.”
With truffles having a rather rich flavour, it’s important to pair it with wine that has both a freshness and complexity to it, as well as a pronounced acidity. The wines that come from vineyards on Altima Farm, which has its origins in that same cool climate as the truffles, also happen to be those that complement truffle-inspired dishes the best, according to Gidi.
“In the range there is a Cape of Good Hope Altima Sauvignon Blanc, our Cape of Good Hope Serruria Chardonnay, as well as the Cape of Good Hope Sneeuwkrans Pinot Noir. These three wines all have quite a broad, interesting and bold palette with excellent balance provided by the fresh acidity, which also yields exceptional length. These are all the hallmarks of wines that pair well with truffle-inspired dishes,” she says.
According to Gidi, visitors can look forward to more than just delicious things to drink on their visit to Altima Estate. The farm itself is also an absolute pleasure to behold. “Altima is situated high up in the mountains in the Elandskloof valley, in what amounts to a type of mountainous amphitheater, with lush apple- and pear orchards covering most of the valley floor.”
“It’s about 650 to 850 m above sea level, which gives you an idea of how steep the actual vineyards are and how they rise from the lower parts to the higher parts of the farm. There is a lot of indigenous pine forests surrounding the farm which makes for a beautifully dramatic mountainous backdrop. The actual setting of the truffle hunt is in a 10-year-old oak tree orchard, about 3-4 m in height, and this time of year the autumn colours are just spectacular.”
Gidi says that they recommend guests come attired in comfortable attire and walking shoes, so they are able to enjoy the experience in absolute comfort. “We will be taking you around Altima farm, and some areas can be a little uneven or slightly steep. It’s not vast distances that we’ll be walking, but just be ready for a little bit of a trek nonetheless.”
“You will arrive on the farm, disembark and board another vehicle for a short tour of the farm. After this, you’ll spend another half hour or so moving around the truffle-hunting area. With Altima’s cool climate, it’s also important to bring along some warm clothes – if you look at the weather forecast for Franschhoek or Cape Town on a particular day, it will be at least 3 to 5 degrees cooler on the estate. Layers are good, and if the weather looks a little rainy or it had been raining in the week prior to your visit, consider water-proof shoes like gumboots or wellingtons.”
Once you return to the Anthonij Rupert Wine Farm in Franschoek it is time to sit down for an indulgent multi-course, wine paired truffle feast. The perfect ending to a perfect day.
Does this sound like your idea of a fun day out in the Cape Winelands? Excellent! Simply follow this link to find out more about the experience, and pick a date that suits your schedule. We look forward to hearing all about your truffle encounter, so do report back after your foray to the fabulous truffle fields of the Elandskloof valley.