My introduction to the Southern Forests was a road trip years before I knew that Manjimup was becoming the centre of a trade in black truffle, and even more years before I’d be connected to the region as a co-Festival Director of Truffle Kerfuffle (2016-18).
While the rolling agricultural backdrop, Karri forests and backroads are unchanged, there’s an ever-burgeoning food and drink scene taking shape. Now my feeling for the region and respect for its producers runs deep. It’s a place I passionately spruik at any opportunity from conversations with curious chefs in London, Singapore and Sydney, to those who know my affection for the region and ask, where should I go?
Go in winter, take a road trip, is my usual answer. As is take your time, explore, enjoy and eat. The drive to the region from Perth is just over 3 hours. It’s more than achievable in one go but as with any road trip you miss out on so much by hurrying to the final destination.
There’s the Geographe wine region, country towns and blink and you miss it stops. Lady Marmalade is a Kirup café that should be circled on your map or whatever we do in this digital world. Established by Lynlee Rutter in 2016, breakfast and lunch are a homely mix of house made sausage rolls, hand cut chips and substantial steak sangers. There’s ceramics and art to browse but Lynlee’s sweet creations are the draw – think fancy lamingtons, melting moments and lemon meringue cake. Close by Newy’s Vegie Patch, open Thursday to Sunday, is stocked with the best of local produce.
Balingup has long been a favourite stop for its smattering of vintage stores, like The Old Cheese Factory, or further down the road Bridgetown which exudes country charm. Minutes from the South Western Highway you’ll find The Cidery and Blackwood Valley Brewing Company, the former using apples from Manjimup’s famed apple orchards in a range that takes you from light and sparkling to a more traditional take on the Scrumpy of south west England. Blackwood Truffle Ale, a collaboration with The Truffle & Wine Co. The Truffle & Wine Co in Manjimup also draws interest; especially in these winter months.
No visit to truffle country would be complete without getting your hands dirty. Australian Truffle Traders and Coomer Truffles offer in season hunt experiences; a chance to see the highly trained dogs and handlers at work on the orchards. For more, check out our article Truffle hunting in Manjimup with Australian Truffle Traders
Accommodation in the region stretches from B&B stays like historic Dingup House to winery chalets and the refurbished RAC Karri Valley Resort. Fonty’s Pool home of the Truffle Kerfuffle, is my favoured stay (albeit closed until September 1st for annual maintenance). A historic site on Seven Day Road, the natural pool has been at the centre of Manjimup life for almost a century. Whilst swimming here is for most a summer pursuit, a winter dip is a bracing start to the day. Only for the brave (or perhaps the foolish).
Being just ninety minutes east of Margaret River and two hours west of Denmark (the epicentre for many Great Southern wineries), the Southern Forests region’s wineries have sometimes gone under the radar. Climatically the region is different from its neighbours, the varietal that pulls me in: Pinot Noir. Amongst my favourite producers, Batista from winemaker Bob Peruch, and Picardy, the Pemberton winery established by the revered Pannell family, founders of Moss Wood. Seek out those wineries with cellar doors, but for those that don’t, Tall Timbers a ground-breaking Manjimup tavern champions the full spectrum of Southern Forests wine.
As the region has become a destination for food tourism, the profile of its primary producers raised, it’s seen the birth of cafes and bars like Manjimup’s Park and Southern Roasting Co., the soon to open Tall Timbers Brewing Co. also in Manjimup, and Pemberton’s Wild at Heart. There’s a confidence in the offerings and a passion in showcasing the best of the region, including down to earth truffle dishes.
While I’d always say that the Southern Forests are Australian truffle country, my pick of where to eat truffle in season is Margaret River, just 90 minutes east of Manjimup. I’d take a slight detour to Cambray Cheese, just outside Nannup, before heading on to Margaret River. True farmhouse cheese, there’s no mistaking the passion here; the milking stalls backing onto the cheese making room, their cheese so the go-to for our state’s best chefs.
Up and down the Margaret River region chefs are eager for truffle season to roll around. There are few menus where you won’t find it in some form but from south to north Voyager, Leeuwin Estate, Vasse Felix, Cape Lodge, Chow’s Table, Arimia, and Yarri, all excel in bringing truffle to the fore; using the region’s and the state’s best ingredients from celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes, to venison, beef and scallops.
As truffle season nears its end each year, I’m reminded that seasonal eating in Western Australia is such a strong influence. Rather than lament the passing of black truffle for another year I look forward to the next.
For more south west road trip inspiration check out Australia’s South West.
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