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.

Burgundy truffles (Tuber aestivum syn uncinatum) are often regarded as a poor relation of the Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum), and are available for much lower prices in European markets, but I have been remarkably impressed by the intensity of the aroma we’re getting in the best of our truffles. They are obviously related to the Perigord black – there’s a family feel to the aroma, with forest floor and floral notes, but without the sometimes cloying intensity of a perfectly ripe melanosporum. Like all truffles they work extremely well with eggs, butter and cheese. A perfectly ripe piece of Brie de Meaux from Canterbury Cheesemongers truffled with Burgundy truffle makes a superb match with fine pinot noir – especially ours…

We found good ripe truffles from mid January through to mid April, but have none available at the moment (so Rosie says). The good news is that another flush of truffles is showing up through cracks in the soil, and I expect that they will ripen in mid-winter – perhaps in July. We’ll let you know… Meanwhile, we have sold some truffle to Southern Cross Truffles, the Canterbury-based tree nursery, and they will have inoculated seedling trees for sale in due course. That should lead to an expansion of Burgundy truffieres in New Zealand, and hopefully make this truffle available to a much wider audience. We’re also planning to expand our plantation at Limestone Hills. It will be a few years before production can ramp up however, so until then you’ll just have to fight over our limited harvest…

Bianchetto truffles: We’ve dug up a few bianchetto truffles in recent weeks, mostly by accident (because Rosie can be a tad impatient when Gareth is sniffing around the Burgundy patch), and they’re beginning to show signs of ripeness. At the moment we don’t really know how many truffles we’re likely to have over the season (last year was a total of about 5 kg), but we will be having a good look around this week. I’m hoping to have something for sale in a week or two.

Périgord black truffles: Our harvest last winter was disappointing — the cold summer probably had something to do with that — but production started in several new areas of the truffiere and we’re hopeful that we’ll get a bigger crop this year. Gareth has already found one unripe fruiting body on the soil surface, so with luck there will be more. We usually get the first ripe black truffles in late June. We’ll let you know more in due course.

If you’re a Twitter or Facebook user, it’s worth keeping an eye on Gareth’s tweets and our Facebook page for occasional truffle offers. The last Burgundy truffle we sold found a happy buyer precisely five minutes after the tweet went out. We can also offer visitors the opportunity to accompany Rosie on a truffle hunt. Cost is $50 for a 45 minute tour, but you get to keep the first $50 worth of truffle found (if any – no guarantees, obviously). Let Gareth know if you’d like to book a session. Guests staying with us at The Shearer’s Cottage can have a complimentary truffle hunt or truffiere tour.

Wine: Our pinot noir vendange this year was a record-breaker, with nearly a tonne of fine fruit harvested. It’s now sitting in vats at Crater Rim, with winemaker Theo Coles keeping a close eye on proceedings. Theo thinks we’re going to have a very nice little drop at the end of the day – thanks to a near perfect summer it should give us a glimpse of the true potential of our unique limestone terroir. The 2012 pinot will be bottled soon. In a recent informal tasting it stood up rather well to competition from Bell Hill, Mountford, Muddy Water and Tattybogler pinots, so it will be interesting to see how it matures. Limited quantities will be available through Theo in due course. Let Gareth know if you’re interested.

The syrah is still hanging in the vines, but will be harvested very soon. Quality should be excellent, but quantities will be tiny (as ever). If you’d like to taste the 2009 (which is drinking extremely well at the moment), 2011 or 2012, you’ll have to visit us. Over the coming winter we’re planning to clear some terraces with the aim of doubling the size of our syrah vineyard, so in a few years we may even be able to fill a barrel with the stuff.

Other news: Gareth is working on a fully revised and updated edition of The Truffle Book. With luck it should be available in the second half of this year. [Update: No, it won’t. Next year, with luck.]

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