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British Royal Family

Camilla looks for truffles and kangaroos in Canberra

Truffle ice cream delights the Duchess on a rainy Canberra afternoon.

By Juliet Rieden
Despite all the planning, protocol and organisation, sometimes royal tours throw a curve ball that even the most experienced royal advisers can't dodge. And, that's how it was today in the nation's capital with a precarious schedule of al fresco events.
After standing out in steady rain at the Remembrance Day Service, I have to say that when I arrived at a sodden paddock, around 15 minutes from central Canberra, to see a makeshift kitchen in a shed and a tented canopy sheltering a shovel beside an English oak sappling as well as a few bales of hay at a distance, I wondered how on earth the Duchess of Cornwall was going to pull off this extremely outdoor visit to the French Black Truffles of Canberra.
Together with a small group of media, we huddled in our allotted spots behind the hay (again in the bucketing rain), perilously balancing brollies, cameras and in my case, a very wet notepad and dripping mobile phone. Oh, the glamour!
Manager of the business, Jayson Mesmen, was chipper. He wasn't going to let an extreme downpour ruin his "once in a lifetime" encounter with the wife of our future King.
Indeed, waiting in the wings to meet Her Royal Highness were his wife and 13-month son Jax.
Along with owner Sherry McArdle-English - who had also amassed her family for the royal day - Jayson enthusiastically explained how today's set up was going to be exactly that - a set up.
You see, it's not actually truffle season.
When Sherry heard some months ago that the Duchess would be honouring her family business with a visit, she had the foresight to freeze one of her truffles so that it could be defrosted and used for today's demonstration with a simulation of a truffle dog - in this case Black Labrador, Samson - sniffing out the refined fungi, which in season grows underground on the roots of trees - in this case a French oak.
Meanwhile in the shed, Damian Brabender, head chef at acclaimed Canberra restaurant Sage Dining, had prepared various truffle delicacies for Camilla to sample - truffle butter, truffle honey - and was charged to whip up truffle infused scrambled eggs and truffle ice cream chilled in a flamboyant culinary display with liquid nitrogen, all for Her Royal Highness.
With three minutes to the royal's arrival we all jumped into position.
The rain was tipping down harder than ever. Would the Duchess really go through with this?
She arrived flanked by the Prime Minister's wife Lucy Turnbull and her advisers looking keen as - well -truffle mustard!
It turns out the royal couple are huge truffle fans [as are the Turnbull’s, but that's another story] and no doubt she wouldn't have missed this for anything. Evidently, Prince Charles forages for mushrooms at home in Scotland but they don't have any truffles.
Looking remarkably fresh - and dry - in an Anna Valentine blue coat and dress with a rather fashion forward trench coat nonchalantly thrown over her shoulders, the Duchess greeted Sherry and was entranced by the story behind the innovative boutique business which was founded in 2004.
Then along came the wonderful Samson, bounding through the trees caring little for the downpour as he snuffled out the huge truffle to the Duchess's delight.
Watching on was another snuffler; the incredibly cute American cocker spaniel Snuffles, who also sniffs out truffles but at a gentler more ladylike pace, and pigs Winnie and Piglet, similarly trained in the art of truffle finding.
After planting the sapling, the Duchess headed for the kitchen where Damian's honey, scrambled egg and ice cream went down a treat. Still, the rain was pouring and we media were soaked, but the Duchess's enthusiasm was infectious and the photographers were having a field day.
Usually, royals either don't eat in front of the cameras or they take a delicate bite, but Camilla was loving the truffle infusions. The truffles sell for up to $3000 a kilo so it's no wonder the royal didn't want to miss this gourmet feast.
When she left, it was still raining but what could have been a washout was a sensation.
Later that day on a buggy in the grounds of Yarralumla, the Duchess gamely tried to set up another photo op with Government House's favourite kangaroos. The roos however, weren't playing and hopped off in the opposite direction.
"You've scared them off" the Duchess joked with the media. Some things just won't go to plan.
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