Let truffle dogs help you sniff out some gastronomic adventures through Australia’s burgeoning truffières.
1. Dick and Virginia Groot Obbink of Durran Durra Truffles were Sydney-based microbiologists when they hatched a plan for a country tree change. After buying 100 acres of farmland in Braidwood, NSW, they planted 400 truffle-inoculated English and European oak trees in 2008, crossed their fingers and hoped for the best. The decision to work with a different kind of microorganism paid off when they unearthed their first black truffle five years ago – a feeling akin to “finding a piece of gold in the ground”, says Groot Obbink. Although drought and bushfires scotched last year’s harvest, ample rains mean this year is shaping up to be a big one. Visitors can book weekday hunts with the energetic kelpie Bella, while a range of truffle products is currently under development.
2. Teetering on the very edge of Canberra’s city limits is The Truffle Farm which opens for hunts from May to August. Keen to rug up and join in? You’ll need to get your skates on because many of this year’s sessions have already sold out. After accompanying the truffle dogs as they sniff out buried treasure around the roots of the 3000 or so trees on the farm, it’s back to the truffle shed for a six-course truffle degustation prepared by executive chef Damian Brabender, with matching local wines. If, after all that, you still haven’t had your fill of food and wine, you’ll be pleased to know that Mount Majura Vineyard with its flagship tempranillo wines is located right next door, while Canberra’s restaurants, bars and cafes are a short 15-minute drive away.
3. Truffles require cold frosty winters, so Queensland would seem to be an odd spot for them to grow. But on the Granite Belt, elevated 1000 metres above sea level, the conditions are pretty well perfect. Four years ago, Matt Hibberd was putting security dogs through their paces when a grower asked if he could train truffle detection dogs. Hibberd couldn’t see why not. Although there are about two dozen Granite Belt growers, European-style secrecy mean none are open for hunts or tours. So Hibberd started the Truffle Discovery Centre in Stanthorpe, a gift shop and interpretive gallery, with 40 display trees and truffle salts, oils, butter and aioli. In winter, he sources just-dug truffles from highly classified local suppliers so visitors can sample them fresh from the farm gate.
4. As she brushes dirt off her hands after a training session with her new labradoodle puppy, Anna Terry of Tasmanian Truffles admits she has been eating truffles since she was three years old. She and her brother Henry are second-generation farmers, after their father Tim harvested Australia’s very first truffle in 1999. In addition to black winter truffles (Tuber melanosporum) the 5000-tree farm in Deloraine also grows black summer truffles (Tuber aestivum). In the early days, most fresh truffles were exported, but now that Australians have developed a taste for them, they tend to stay close to home, reducing the stress associated with shipping a product which has a premium freshness of two weeks. Tasmanian Truffles offers hunts with or without lunch.
5. The rich soils and lush pastures of Manjimup mean this 4000-strong town is Western Australia’s food bowl but, come winter, there’s only one crop on most people’s minds. Manjimup is the biggest producer of prized black truffles in the Southern Hemisphere – a fact celebrated during the annual Truffle Kerfuffle food festival, which runs this year from 25 to 27 June. Events include the ‘chef’s cabin series’ which involves small groups gathering around the kitchen bench for cooking demonstrations plus that all-important chance to taste truffle-laden dishes. Masterclasses, truffle hunts, truffle dog demonstrations, wine tastings and long-table dinners are also part of the program. There are even kids cooking classes to keep the sipper cup set busy.
6. Marco Marinelli knew he was onto something with his VSTS (which stands for Very Special Truffle Salt) recipe when his young daughter spirited it away in her school bag so she could season her lunches. He used to make the 25 per cent fresh truffle salt as a present for friends and family but soon added it to Mushroom Man, his Adelaide Central Market and online shop. Marinelli says that while the South Australian truffle market is in its infancy, this is changing. In the meantime, he sources fresh product from Tasmania, Western Australia and sometimes even Alba and Périgord. His ultra-specialist shop also sells a range of other fresh and dry fungi, from Adelaide Hills porcini, through to French chanterelles.
7. In 2018, Jax Lee set a New Zealand record when she unearthed a whopping 1.36-kilogram black truffle worth thousands of dollars at Kings Truffles in New Zealand. It was a coup for the North Canterbury truffière, founded by her father 15 years’ earlier. Surrounded by the limestone escarpments of Waipara Gorge, Kings Truffles is located one hour north of Christchurch International Airport, making it close enough for a day trip, but sufficiently remote to feel like a real escape. Lee recently teamed up with neighbour Black Estate winery which offers a truffle-based menu throughout winter, as well as packages for private groups to experience a truffle hunt followed by a wine tour and lunch.
8. Nestled in the Dandenong Ranges, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Gembrook Truffles is debuting its public truffle hunts this winter. But that doesn’t mean the operators are new to the ‘black gold’ game. The Carter family also owns and runs Trufficulture Nurseries which has supplied farmers with truffle inoculated French oak and stone pine trees for almost a decade. Now, after each hunt, a small number of trees will be available for backyard buyers to purchase. If a whole tree sounds like too big a commitment, there’s always the option to take fresh truffles home instead. Although priced between $1500-$2500 per kilogram, Chloe Carter reckons $50 worth of truffles is ample to impress your next dinner party guests.
9. Truffles occupy a rarefied place in the gastronomic firmament but they are best served simply, says Rodney Dunn, founder of The Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania. Five years ago ((** 2016 **)) Dunn wrote the definitive book on the subject, the truffle cookbook, including such gems as truffled macaroni and cheese and tajarin (fine pasta) with truffle butter and truffled egg yolk. Truffles have an “amazing affinity with fat”, so when in season, he weaves them through The Agrarian Kitchen’s menu. Surprisingly, the inimitable fungus even works in desserts like custards and trifles. For a taste of everyday luxury, home cooks can’t go past scrambled eggs topped with grated truffle, says Dunn.
10. The new Every Day I’m Trufflin’ three-night package by Launceston’s seven-room boutique hotel Stillwater Seven is designed to showcase the best things about Tasmanian winters. It’s about embracing shorter days, sleeping in, and slowing down – and what better way to do that than with breakfast in bed featuring scrambled eggs topped with freshly shaved truffles? Hotelier and co-owner of Stillwater Seven Chris McNally says the package also includes menus featuring Tamar Valley Truffles by chef Craig Will at Stillwater Restaurant and Black Cow Bistro and an optional visit to a local vineyard and truffle farm. “Sometimes people just want to get on a plane and know that everything has been taken care of,” he says.