Speaking to the Suppliers: Wiltshire Truffles

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Fresh truffle is one of Marcus’s favourite ingredients. Luxurious and decadent, this rare ingredient currently takes centre stage on the weekday lunch menu at Marcus. We speak to Zak Frost from Wiltshire Truffles, a supplier we have had the pleasure of working with for a number of years now, who personally hunts the truffles with his dogs Stanley and Freddie, in a unique secret location in deepest Wiltshire.

Tell us a little about the history of Wiltshire Truffles and how the company came to be?

I had worked my whole life in the music industry and only came into truffles by chance. I fell in love with them while living in Italy 20 years ago, then found out there was a very special farm where they grew wild in my home county of Wiltshire. In the early days I just hunted them for fun at the weekends and sold them to some chef friends. This rapidly escalated to supplying them to many of the UK’s leading restaurants. I then started travelling the world forming partnerships with other hunters and growers and started to import the finest truffles from abroad. Now the truffles we hunt ourselves are just a tiny part of the business, and Wiltshire Truffles supplies almost every single top restaurant in the UK with all types of truffles through the different seasons.

What methods do you use to find the truffles?

All our English truffles are hunted by me personally with my dogs – Stanley and Freddie, who are labradors. Stanley is a genius but Freddie is still very much in training. Nobody uses pigs any more – they are hard to train and likely to eat the truffles (or your fingers!) before you get chance to harvest them. All our imported truffles come from very carefully selected exclusive partners, who are also now all good friends, and I visit all of them annually – even going to Western Australia every year.

Winter truffles currently take centre stage on our menus at Marcus, what makes a winter truffle so special?

The black winter truffle – tuber melanosporum, often known as the “Périgord” truffle – is my absolute favourite truffle species, and certainly the most exciting one for chefs. I could eat them every day (and I almost do) as they are so versatile. They taste of decadence and luxury – the essence of the earth but mixed with notes of chocolate, leather, vanilla, mushroom, spices and so much more.

What makes Wiltshire such an optimum location for Truffles to grow in UK?

There are a number of areas in the UK where truffles can be found – most notably Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, Dorset and Sussex but other areas too, they need an alkaline soil – chalk or limestone. But as far as I am aware the farm where we hunt all our truffles in Wiltshire is unique for the sheer abundance of truffles that can be found – I’ve never heard of anywhere else, not just in the UK but worldwide, where so many truffles grow wild in such a small area.

What are some of your truffle dishes to create at home?

My favourite way to enjoy black truffles is probably just sliced, chopped or grated all over a warmed soft cheese like Vacherin Mont d’Or.. complete heaven. I also like to make a black truffle salad dressing with a touch of soy sauce and lemon. Otherwise I usually eat them in very simple ways – for example with eggs, rice or pasta – I leave the more exotic creations to the amazing chefs in the restaurants we supply, where I am very lucky to eat quite often. Whenever I eat out I tend to be given a lot of truffles.. sometimes chefs put them on every course I eat, but that’s fine with me – I just love eating them. At home I also preserve them in stock and fortified wine to use out of season – Marco Pierre White showed me his exact recipe and method and it works so well, really intensifying the flavour and making it possible to enjoy black winter truffles all year round.

What are some of the challenges you face with farming truffles in the UK?

Up until recently we haven’t actually been farming them, just hunting them wild. But over the last few years my wife Nina and I have planted our own forests of over 3,500 trees, all inoculated with our own truffle spore, with a view to hopefully increasing the supply of local English truffles in the future, as we currently hunt nowhere near enough to meet demand. It’s a very difficult and time consuming process to farm truffles – if all the conditions are perfect you might start finding truffles 5-7 years after planting them, but they may well never come – nothing is guaranteed and in the UK far more have failed than succeeded. If it was easy then everyone would be doing it!

What are some of your favourite things about working so closely with chefs and restaurants in the UK?

I absolutely LOVE my job and feel so lucky to be doing it. I’m either out in the woods with my dogs, travelling the world to visit our partners in other beautiful countries or, most of all, in the best restaurants of the UK delivering truffles. I meet many of the country’s most famous and respected chefs on a daily basis and feel very privileged to get a window into such prestigious kitchens. Many leading chefs are now close personal friends – in fact I see them much more often than my ‘real’ friends, so get to know them very well. I love being in professional kitchens – and much prefer supplying chefs than the general public – I’m also very fortunate to often be given delicious little snacks to enjoy on the fly.

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