Inside the world’s most productive truffiere

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A couple of weeks ago, in pursuit of knowledge to be inserted into my next book on truffles, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Truffle & Wine Company‘s truffiere in Manjimup, Western Australia — said to be the most productive truffière in the world. The company is coy about revealing numbers, but the Manjimup region probably produced somewhere between 5 and 7 tonnes of Perigord black truffles this winter, and most of those came from the 13,000 trees in the Truffle & Wine Co plantation. At the peak of the harvest, the company was washing and grading as much as 200kg of truffle per day — almost certainly more than New Zealand’s total melanosporum harvest over the entire winter season.

The truffière was established in 1997 and produced its first truffles in 2003. There’s a picture of their first 1kg truffle in The Truffle Book. Since that book was published the Manjimup harvest has increased by leaps and bounds, and WA truffles are now exported around the world — including to France. It’s a fascinating demonstration of what is possible in a well-managed southern hemisphere truffière, and it’s no surprise that the number of truffle trees planted around Manjimup is increasing rapidly.

Also on display at Manjimup was the truffle aroma wheel developed by Professor Garry Lee of the University of Western Australia, launched at the recent Australian Truffle Growers Association conference in Tasmania.

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For a higher resolution version, click here. For more on its potential uses, see the ABC report on the launch.

I haven’t yet had a chance to discuss the aroma wheel with Professor Lee, but will do so soon. There will be more in the next book…

My thanks to Harry Eslick, who guided our little tour party around the truffière and answered almost all of my questions… 😉

Looking round the back garden…

The view from our cliff top yesterday, taken as a test of a new iPhone app from Instagram called Hyperlapse. The app smoothes hand-held video taken on iOS devices, and can produce time lapse movies very, very simply. Great fun to play with. Panorama starts due north, moves over The Deans until pointing down the Waipara Valley, then tracks down the cliff and up the river bed.

2014 truffle harvest newsletter #2

Welcome – somewhat later than planned – to the second Limestone Hills truffle update for 2014. A lot’s been happening. We’ve been deluged with rain – the wettest autumn since we moved to Waipara 17 years ago. Floods have eroded gullies, taken out a fence and washed out a track, but the sun is now out and the truffles are doing rather better than we expected six weeks ago when the Waipara River was roaring past at 250 cubic metres per second (it usually idles past us at a cumec or two). Here’s Rosie with our first Perigord black of the season, found at the end of June:

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The truffle hound has been on great form, especially when taking visitors out on truffle hunts. Rosie is always charming company, and has never yet sent any winter visitor away empty handed… Continue reading

Saffron Milk Caps make a comeback

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It’s been a long time — June 2005, in fact — since we’ve had saffron milk cap mushrooms off our little trial patch of Pinus radiata infected with the gourmet fungus, but this year’s wet autumn has really got the mushrooms moving. After 113 mm of rain in March and 54 mm so far in April, the ground is more than moist, and a myriad of different mushrooms are popping up all over the farm.

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2014 truffle season underway

This is our first truffle newsletter for the 2014 season. It was sent to subscribers a couple of weeks ago. If you’d link to sign up for future missives, use the form in the right sidebar.

Welcome to the first Limestone Hills truffle harvest newsletter for 2014. It’s raining outside – the tail end of a tropical cyclone is nudging us up towards 100 mm of rain for March, and we’re only halfway through what’s normally a dry month. Rosie the truffle machine is a little under the weather as well:

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She has a sore paw of unknown cause, and will be off to the vet in the morning so that we can get it fixed before the truffle season starts in earnest. [Update April 8: Dog and paw doing fine, and finding truffles.] The rain is helping prospects for winter truffles like our Perigord black and bianchetto, but with grapes still hanging in the vines I’m hoping we don’t get too much more wetness. Four nice warm dry weeks to bring in the pinot noir is what’s required…

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First footing

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I wasn’t expecting the 2014 truffle season to start on the first of January, but it did. We had some friends round for our traditional New Year’s Day lunch (ham with Cumberland sauce), and one or two said they’d like to see Rosie have a sniff round some trees. So I pocketed a few treats, hitched the excited little dog (did I mention she’ll do anything for a treat?) to her lead, and we headed out to the truffière. I was confident of being able to show the little group a few truffles poking their heads above the soil — I counted ten today — but Rosie went one better and found a lovely ripe 59g Burgundy truffle nestled well underground. Cue general excitement.

The truffle is not for sale. Some was used in truffle butter, served with yesterday’s crayfish supper, and more will be used in scrambled eggs for a weekend breakfast. I doubt there will be any left after that. But I do expect that we’ll have more ripe Burgundy truffle soon — and I have orders piling up from some of NZ’s top chefs. And a bag of butcher’s bones for a beagle…

That was the year, that was

I’ve just sent our final truffle newsletter for the year. Here’s what I had to say…

It’s been an amazing year for us, with truffles produced in every month from January to November, the production of our first olive oil, and a good grape harvest.

Truffle season finally over: We drew the curtains on the truffle season on November 11th. Rosie had just found a very nice haul of 891 g of assorted Burgundy truffles (in about 5 minutes), but the aroma of the best was not very intense so – aside from a few nice ones that made their way to Roots in Lyttleton for their first birthday celebrations – we have decided to leave all the remaining truffles (and there are quite a few) in the ground until the New Year. If this year is anything to go by, then we should have good ripe Tuber aestivum/uncinatum available from late January onwards.

Rosie with a 250g

We’ve been on a steep learning curve with our Burgundy truffles. As the only commercial producers in New Zealand, we’ve been picking things up as we go, talking to contacts overseas and in the science community to try to build our understanding of how these beautiful truffles handle NZ conditions. In our little patch of trees, it appears that T aestivum/uncinatum fruits more or less continuously year round. Fully mature truffles – with intense aroma and hazelnut or latte coloured flesh – are produced between January and July. From August to October/November truffles develop aroma, which can be quite strong, but don’t seem to develop mature flesh. We’ve been describing these as “spring ripe” truffles, and selling the best for $500/kg (half price – a bargain!). Handled properly, they produce excellent truffled scrambled eggs.

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Truffle harvest newsletter #3 (July 2013)

Winter so far: We’ve been busy over the last few weeks, finding truffles and despatching them to satisfied customers. Rosie the trufflehound’s fame has been spreading, thanks to a lovely photoessay at POD Gardening by Paul Thompson which records our discovery back in April of the largest Burgundy truffle yet harvested in New Zealand – all 533g of it.

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Homeward bound, truffle in hand…

The weather’s been oscillating between snowy cold and unseasonal warmth, but seems to have settled into the latter for the last week or so. It’ll soon be time to get stuck in to pruning vineyard and trees (500+), not to mention the 100+ roses in the garden.

Bianchetto truffles: Our bianchetto harvest has been going well, and our truffles have featured on menus at Saggio di Vino, Edesia, and Chillingworth Road in Christchurch, at Roots in Lyttleton and Chantellini’s in Hanmer. We’ll be at the Waipara Valley Farmer’s Market tomorrow morning with a couple of hundred grammes of good bianchetto to sell – part of the market’s welcome to the 80+ chefs attending the NZ Chefs Association conference in Christchurch this weekend. On Saturday afternoon we’ll be welcoming the chefs to Limestone Hills for a truffle tour and a chance to see Rosie in action. Might be a bit crowded down on the front paddock…

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