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

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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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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Truffle harvest newsletter #2 (June 2013)

Winter is here: Ground frosts are crisping up the morning grass but the sun is still shining and early winter is looking green and pleasant in the Waipara Valley. Truffle dogs are out and working in the region’s truffieres, but Rosie the truffle machine still finds time for a little rest and recreation:

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(Rosie reviews the valley from the steps at Black Estate)

Our Burgundy truffles are back in production, with a very nice 240 gram truffle delivered to Saggio di Vino in Christchurch last Friday, and a 38g truffle despatched in a slice of ripe brie and in breakfast scrambled eggs for visiting friends. Gareth has counted a further 19 truffle “push ups” — truffles pushing up through the soil surface — so there will certainly be more available over the next couple of months. If you are interested in sampling our Burgundy truffles as they ripen, please email Gareth and he’ll add you to the list. First come, first served, as always…

Bianchetto truffles: We’re hoping to start harvesting good ripe truffle very soon, and expect to be able to despatch existing orders in the next week or two. Once again, let us know if you want to add your name to the list.

Périgord black truffles: Rosie’s sniffing around on a weekly basis at the moment, but as yet we have no sign of ripe truffle.

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Truffle Harvest newsletter #1 (May 2013)

Back in May, I started a Limestone Hills truffle harvest newsletter. I’ve just sent out the fourth in the series – the last for the year. I had intended to parallel post the newsletters to the blog, but for a number of reasons (one of which has been dealt with by moving the Limestone Hills site to a new web host), I never got round to it. This, therefore, is by way of catching up. It was originally mailed out on May 7th. To sign up to our newsletter, fill in the box in the sidebar.

The story so far: summer 2013 has been a wonderful time for Burgundy truffles, and our tiny little patch of trees continues to astonish us with its productivity. I blogged about the most recent record-breaking monster – all 533g of it – here, and the earlier 529g big boy featured on our Facebook page and in The Press. Both truffles were sold to Saggio di Vino, who made excellent use of the beautifully aromatic truffles. Burgundy truffle has also been on the menu at Black Estate in Waipara (excellent truffle butter), and served at Roots in Lyttleton. So far this year we’ve produced nearly 5 kg of truffles, but not all were saleable. We’re still learning about quality control with this species, and we’re not willing to let truffles go if they’re not going to give a good account of themselves when they hit the plate.

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Rosie’s big day at Bell Hill

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Marcel and Sherwyn at the Bell Hill vineyard near Waikari have joined the ranks of NZ’s white truffle growers, thanks to the exploratory efforts of Rosie the truffle machine. I took her over the hill yesterday for a sniff round the trees — Bell Hill have Burgundy, bianchetto and Perigord black trees, as we do at Limestone Hills ((From the same nursery batches, too.)). I thought the bianchetto block looked promising, with lots of rabbit interest round the trees, and after a slow start Rosie got into her stride, finding a beautiful large bianchetto close to an oak. The look on Marcel’s face is not one I shall ever forget – big grin, bright eyes, extreme pleasure writ large. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes later I was laid low by a Menières episode ((Never pleasant, and I’m very grateful to Marcel and Sherwyn for getting me home safely.)), but Rosie kept going with Marcel, eventually finding around 300 grammes of good truffle (see above).

I’ll be back at Bell Hill later in the week to see if their Perigord black truffle trees have also started fruiting — but I’m not guaranteeing success. Having spoken to local growers, it looks as though this is not a good season for the Perigord black — at least in Canterbury. Last summer was cool — and perhaps too cool for a good harvest. At Limestone Hills we’re well down on last year, though the remarkable productivity of out little bianchetto block, and the excitement of finding our first Burgundy truffles, including one of 330 grammes, has helped to keep our spirits ((And sales.)) high.

That big Burgundy truffle gave us an excuse to do a bit of PR with top Christchurch chef Jonny Schwass. We set up a special three truffle dinner at Schwass in a Box — Jonny’s post-earthquake mini restaurant come private dining experience, located in the corner of a furniture showroom. Here’s the menu:

  • Bianchetto, Grilled Cheese & Whipped Lard
  • Egg Yolk, White Polenta, Reggiano & Perigord
  • Bianchetto & Smoked Lardo Risotto
  • All Three Tortellini
  • Quail, Parsnip & Burgundy
  • Pork, Cauliflower & Bianchetto
  • Potato & Perigord
  • Burgundy filled Brie de Meaux
  • White Chocolate & Bianchetto Zabaglione
  • Salted Caramel Fondant & Burgundy Ice Cream

It was an outstanding meal and a great evening. The Burgundy truffle ice-cream was magnificent, and the sous-vide potatoes with their truffley buttery unctuousness were superb, but every course was a triumph in its own way. We’re looking forward to repeating the exercise next year in Jonny’s new restaurant, and perhaps making it an annual event.

Our truffles have also been featuring on the menu at Amberley’s excellent Nor’wester Café for the last month, and I’ve spent a couple of Saturday mornings at the Waipara Valley farmers market selling truffle. Meanwhile, Jonny has just collected a consignment of bianchetto for a lunch he’s cooking for the editors of all NZ’s food magazines this week. Small, but perfectly formed — that’s our harvest. You could say the same for Limestone Hills in almost every way.

Tonight’s dinner, and vineyard notes…

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One ripe bianchetto truffle, found for me by a rabbit, destined for tonight’s dinner. Nine grams, good strong aroma, just rolling around on the soil surface waiting for me to pick it up. Easiest truffle harvest ever. And there were a few more bianchetto in the ground waiting to ripen. This truffle growing business is a doddle ((No, it isn’t.)).

Meanwhile, followers of my tweets and/or the Limestone Hills Facebook page will know that on Saturday we picked our pinot noir. Six of us ((Thanks Neil, Graham and Denise, Alex and She Who Must Be Obeyed.)) picked the lot in four hours, and just under 450 kg of fine fruit is now sitting in a fermenter at Crater Rim turning itself into wine. Plus we have a few cases of our 2011 Côtes du Waipara recovering from bottle shock in the shed. I think I’ll open some of the ’09 with the truffle…

An Italian truffle in French New Zealand

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Here’s a strange thing. Our little Burgundy truffle truffière, which started producing for the first time this year, is also producing bianchetto (Tuber borchii) truffles. The truffle in the photo was dug up in early March, and I found it because it had cracked the soil above it to create a classic truffle “push up”. At the time, I assumed that it was an unusually large Tuber maculatum truffle, a brownish white truffle species which turns up unasked for in many New Zealand truffières. I regard maculatum as a weed species, though some people have been known to eat it. But…

I sent samples of our first Burgundy truffle to Alexis Guerin and Wang Yun at Plant & Food Research so that they could provide confirmation of species, and also sent along a piece of an unusually large “maculatum” for them to take a look at. The Burgundy truffle is definitely Tuber aestivum/uncinatum, but a look at the white truffle raised Alexis and Wang’s suspicions, and now DNA profiling has shown that the white truffle is actually Tuber borchii — a very tasty premium truffle. We’ve got a trial block of bianchetto-infected trees about 30 metres away from the Burgundy block, but that has not produced truffles (so far).

How the borchii found its way to Burgundy is a mystery. The most likely answer is that some trees were either swapped in the nursery or on planting, because the Burgundy and bianchetto blocks were planted at the same time. Now I have to go and have a look around the borchii block for Burgundy truffles. Confused? Moi?

Bottom line: Limestone Hills is now producing three premium truffle species, and the bloke who planted the trees is actually rather pleased, even if they’re not all where they should be.

Coming soon: vendange 2012 (looking good the night before).