Last winter the Madame Truffles team installed their pop-up store for the first time at the Handpicked cellar door. This Christmas, they’ll be back with fresh, imported and delicious Italian truffles available December 21 and 22 inside our urban cellar door.
On this occasion we caught up with Emma, owner of Madame Truffles and talked about being an entrepreneur, her collaboration with Handpicked Wines and all things truffles.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I guess I could start by telling you I'm 29 years old and I live in Sydney's inner west with my partner Pete, my seven-month-old daughter Sophie and our dog. When I'm not on maternity leave I work full-time as a research dietitian, as well as owning and running a seasonal business - Madame Truffles - with Pete and our good friend Luke. All of that keeps me pretty busy! But I do still manage to find time for my two other passions in life: food and wine.
How do you know if you are an entrepreneur? A lot of women are scared to embrace that path.
That’s a good question. To be honest I've never really seen myself as having an entrepreneurial personality, but I know what interests and excites me and that, in a nutshell, is food. I've always loved cooking, watching cooking shows, going out to interesting restaurants, and reading food magazines. I think you need to have that interest as your starting point, because that's where your ideas generate from and it's also what gets you through the hard times. And on top of that you need to be willing to take risks and give things a go, accepting that they might fail but you will learn some important lessons along the way.
Did you have a mentor? Who is inspiring to you?
I don't have a formal mentor as such, but I would have to say I learnt a lot from Bernadette Jenner. Madame Truffles was originally started in Melbourne 8 years ago by Bernie and we worked together as business partners for a couple of years. Bernie taught me all there is to know about truffles and what makes them so special, as well as guided me on the ins and outs of running a small business. Her passion, energy, and creativity continues to inspire and shape my business decisions. Bernie also started Madame Truffles at a time in her life where she was juggling a full-time career and a young child which I hugely admire.
What has being your own boss taught you about yourself?
Some good things and some bad things! I've learnt that I'm more capable than I realised. There are lots of roles that I have to take on, such as negotiating contracts and hosting events, that I wouldn't have thought myself capable of, so it's always nice to learn that you can do something if you put your mind to it. But I've also learnt that I have a tendency to take too much on myself when I really need to ask for help, or just accept that it's ok if something doesn't get done.
You had a baby recently – do you have any tips for balancing your life as a business owner and a mother?
Balancing life as a business owner and a mother has been really hard, much harder than anything I've ever done. As a first-time mum I have struggled with mother's guilt and the pressures that come with trying to be the "perfect" parent. I have felt a huge amount of pressure to spend every minute with Sophie and running Madame Truffles has obviously made this very difficult! I think the most helpful piece of advice I can give is to be kind to yourself and remember that you don't have to get it right as a parent all of the time. My other piece of advice would be the advice I still have to keep giving myself - don't be afraid to ask for help.
How do you find the right suppliers for your business?
There are two principles that guide us with those business decisions: the quality of the products and the personal relationship we have with the suppliers. Truffles are a premium product so we feel it's important to visit the farms each year to make sure we are happy with the aroma and flavour of the truffles being harvested, as well as the farming principles being used. We have four main farms that we source from each year, but we are always open to sampling truffle from new suppliers. One thing that is important to us at Madame Truffles is to support small, family-run truffieres where we can.
The personal relationships we have with our suppliers are also really important, particularly as consumers are showing a greater interest in understanding where food comes from and the story behind it. Our customers don't want to just buy any old truffle, they want to know which region and farm the truffle they're purchasing comes from and what makes those truffles unique. We even let customers know the name of the dog that dug up their truffle and can show them photos and videos of the dog if they like.
Why did you decide to collaborate with Handpicked Wines?
The collaboration with Handpicked Wines made sense for so many reasons. Pete and I used to live just around the corner from the cellar door and loved dropping by for a glass of wine (our pick is the Grenache) on the weekend, so the personal connection was there before we had any business relationship. We also have very similar business models in the sense that Handpicked showcases the regionality of Australian wine and we do the same with truffles. Plus there is no better way to enjoy truffle than with a glass of wine in hand so it is a perfect partnership!
What’s the most surprising truffle product you sell?
Definitely our Truffle Ice-cream, Truffle goes beautifully with custards and creams, giving desserts a lovely vanilla malt flavour. Unexpected I know!
Photos: Nastia Gladushchenko