The Truffle is Coming
Truffles are a fungus! In fact literally they are a fungus root that grows under the ground as a result of the roots of particular trees (for example oaks and hazelnuts) being infected with the appropriate fungus.
While they were originally confined to the wild, the past century has seen considerable research, particularly in France, into developing the capability of cultivating them as a domestic crop. The truffles form in late summer and slowly mature during autumn and are ready to harvest in winter. They can be found breaking the surface of the ground or down to 200 millimetres deep and are best located by a trained dog, from the aroma they emit when ripening.
Truffles are often described as a rich mushroom taste and they cooperate so well with the flavours in food, that they enhance and intensify them. A steak with truffle sauce becomes more meaty, eggs are transformed into a gourmet item, and every aspect of the meal becomes more satisfying. For chefs, the price of the truffle is often daunting and therefore a risky business in adding it to the menu. The truffle has a limited shelf life and still some uncertainty over the likely response from customers, so some chef’s may steer clear of this new and exciting addition to Australian cuisine.
Truffles continue to be somewhat of a mystery even after more than 3000 years of consumption. The ancient Greeks loved them and they were prized by the Romans. Theophrasus, a disciple of Plato and Aristotle wrote about them, as did Pliny, the scribe who documented the destruction of Pompei. And even then truffles were considered a luxury item.
Truffles appear to grow in a wide variety of soils and climates within Australia, with production currently coming from the south of Western Australia, many areas in NSW, the ACT, many parts of Victoria and of course, in Tasmania where the first truffle plantations were developed in the early 1990s. There are also plantations in South Australia and Queensland, however these plantations are not old enough to commence production just yet. But watch this space as Queensland does have many areas with the perfect conditions to grow these truffle delights and as popularity grows, farming in Queensland is sure to increase. From the results to date, it seems that the technology is available in Australia to achieve production in many parts of the country. Most of the plantations have some common themes,
- Free draining poor quality soils
- Irrigation water (drought proofing)
- Hot summer temperatures
- Cold winter temperatures
- Dedicated farmers (which we know Queensland is famous for)
The most important of all these is the last, as attention to detail is the key to production! There has been a lot of collaboration between local and overseas truffle growers, marketers and research scientists over the past decades, both internationally and in Australia. The current success that growers are enjoying is in part due to these people, but also to the good old Aussie tradition of careful observation and being prepared to have a go at growing these fungi under conditions that some experts would doubt possible. The Australian Truffle Growers Association has collected knowledge from around the world to assist in truffle farming processes in Australia and communicates with fellow growers locally and nationally to work through any problems new growers may encounter along their journey to production.
Growing truffles can be for simple personal pleasure or for profit, and plantations might contain a few trees or thousands.
They may be expensive, but boy they taste good and are the perfect addition to beautiful fresh flavours.