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…The very wet autumn and early winter has caused a few harvest problems. We have a babbling brook running through the Perigord black truffiere, which is less than ideal for a truffle that generally likes dry conditions, and grass grub in the bianchetto block coupled with the wet soil has led to an increase in insect-damaged and rotten truffles. But there are plenty more truffles in the ground, and the quality of the best has been very good indeed.

Burgundy truffles: Our tiny Burgundy truffle block – only 13 trees, 7 oaks and 6 hazels – continues to astonish us with its productivity. We have already harvested over 6.5 kg of good truffles this year, and since May they have been making weekly appearances on the menu at Orphan’s Kitchen in Auckland. Last week’s shipment was a 300 g truffle with great aroma, and prompted chef Tom Hishon to email us to express his amazement and ask what we were feeding the trees to produce monsters like that…

There are more Burgundy truffles ripening in the ground at the moment – Gareth counted at least a dozen “push ups” (truffles poking up through the soil surface) last week – so there will be more to come. We have also sold more truffles to Southern Cross Truffles for the production of seedling trees infected with Tuber aestivum/uncinatum, so if you’re interested in having a bash at growing your own there should be trees available in the next year or two.

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The tip of the iceberg – the top of a Burgundy truffle pushes up through the soil

Bianchetto truffles: Our bianchetto season is in full swing, and Rosie is finding plenty of good truffle at the moment. If you’ve ever wanted to try the best white truffle in the southern hemisphere – the closest thing we can grow to the über-expensive Italian white truffle, Tuber magnatum – now would be a good time to get in touch. This is the biggest one we’ve found so far this season – 167 g of truffley goodness:

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That truffle went up to Orphan’s Kitchen, but we’ve also supplied bianchetto to Cocoro and SPQR in Auckland, Roots in Lyttleton (top tip: dine there soon – the food’s wonderful), Bistro Gentil in Wanaka, and Aussie celebrity chef Matt Moran used our truffles in an Auckland cooking demo back in May. Helen Jackson tells us that Matt thought they were great…

Perigord black truffles: The joke around here is that our truffle production is inversely proportional to the number of trees we’ve got. We have 230+ Perigord black truffle trees, and our black truffle production is only a small fraction of the prolific Burgundy patch. However, this winter’s harvest is already better than last year’s. New areas are starting to come into production, and a young (four year old) evergreen oak produced its first truffle a couple of weeks ago – a sign of great things to come in future (we hope – we planted 50 little Quercus ilex from Canterbury Truffles four years ago).

Truffle tours: If you’d like to find out a little more about truffles, and see Rosie the truffle hound in action, why not visit Limestone Hills and take one of our truffle tours? So far this year we’ve been pleased to welcome chefs, food writers, foodies, winemakers, restaurateurs, dog lovers and journalists, and we haven’t sent any of them away empty handed. A tour costs $75 for a 45 minute tour (max 6 people), and you get to keep the first $50 worth of truffle found (if any). Bookings are essential. Guests staying with us at The Shearer’s Cottage can have a complimentary truffle hunt or truffiere tour. We’re also very happy to arrange truffle masterclasses/tastings/demonstrations. Contact Gareth to discuss the options…

The Hermit Ram Limestone Hills 2013 Pinot Noir: Last year’s vintage has just been released, and it’s already drinking well. It will soon be available at Decant in Christchurch and from Whole Bunch Wines in Sydney. Bottles are also likely to arrive in Japan via Wine Diamonds. For more information on availability contact the shy sheep himself, Theo Coles.

The 2014 vintage was a real trial: the weather turned to cold custard just as we were hoping for some of the autumn dryness and warmth that’s normal for Waipara. Instead we found ourselves picking in cold and rain, rushing to get the grapes to the winery before botrytis could get into the fruit. There was just under a tonne of good grapes, and the wine’s already showing signs of its limestone pedigree, Theo reports.

Other stuff: Back in June Gareth talked to Helen Jackson on her Radio Live Saturday morning show (listen here), and Cosmo Kentish-Barnes from RNZ’s Country Life programme visited Limestone Hills and went truffling with Rosie. You can hear her crunching hazelnuts in the background of the interview. And if you’re keen to learn more about the strange world of international truffle trading, Gareth’s 2008 “Truffle Wars” article for Gastronomica has found its way on to the web.

August is set to be a busy month, starting with the NZ Truffle Association conference in Motueka. Gareth’s going to take some Burgundy truffle to give attendees a touch’n’sniff session with this exciting new (to NZ) truffle species. We’ve then got a busy schedule of truffle hunts and guests staying with us, and by the end of the month we’ll be making a start on tree pruning and the spring tidy up. We hope the sun sticks around long enough to get fencing and track repairs under way…

[Subscribers to our newsletter received this update on July 28th.]