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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Burgundy comes to Waipara

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I nearly tripped over it. I’d just dug up a rotten truffle from the middle of our little patch of oaks and hazels infected with Tuber aestivum syn uncinatum, the Burgundy truffle, and was pretty excited. It was our first Burgundy truffle and it was rotten and I couldn’t eat it, but that didn’t matter. The twelve year old plantation was finally producing truffles. Another long wait was over. And then Rosie pulled me off to another spot a couple of metres away and there was a truffle sitting in a little depression in the soil surface. 53 grammes of fungal goodness — not ripe yet, perhaps not quite fully grown — but I dug it up anyway. Call me impatient.

Ours was one of the first trial plantings of aestivum infected trees in New Zealand — oaks infected with truffle inoculum from Gerard Chevalier in France went into the ground in 2000 ((There’s a picture of Gerard with one of our seedling oaks in The Truffle Book, p131)), followed a couple years later by hazels infected with aestivum supplied by Christina Weden from Sweden. Both this week’s truffles were found close to hazels. Skol, Christina!

These are not the first Burgundy truffles produced in New Zealand. That honour goes to a trial plantation in South Canterbury, where a rotten truffle was found several years ago. But this is our first Burgundy truffle, and even though it may not be ripe we will eat it, and enjoy it for what it is — proof that a little vision goes a very long way, even if it does take a long time…