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.

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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Our bountiful Burgundy summer

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Monday, March 18th 2013: it’s raining — drizzling, to be exact — the first substantial rain since the end of January, and we’re out in the truffle trees with Paul Thompson from POD Gardening. He’s shooting a photo essay about Limestone Hills and truffles, so Rosie does the business and sniffs out a ripe Burgundy truffle of 533 grammes (that’s the lump under her nose). It’s the largest Burgundy truffle we’ve ever harvested, beating the 529 g monster we dug up at the end of January. It’s currently being enjoyed by the patrons of Saggio di Vino in Christchurch — as was that first one. Here’s a close up:


The scar at the top was caused by my efforts to excavate the monster, but shows the hazel/chocolate-coloured flesh rather nicely. There was plenty of nice aroma — a great truffle — and further evidence of just how productive this little patch of trees seems to be. So far this year we have harvested 4.446 kg of truffles. Some was over-ripe, and will be used as inoculum to produce more Burgundy-infected trees, but the best have been wonderful. This is no second-rate truffle: it’s an affordable ($1 per gramme, as opposed to $3/g for bianchetto and Perigord black) taste of the real thing. I was quite pleased…

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Paul’s full photo essay will appear at POD Gardening soon. Meanwhile, I will be out getting the other truffieres into shape for the harvest — mowing grass, felling weeds and trying to tread lightly to avoid damaging any crop. The bianchetto season looks promising — Rosie’s already found a couple of not quite ripe truffles — but I have my fingers crossed for the Perigord black. We’ve had a hot summer — good for melanosporum — and I’ve been providing plenty of water, but it will be a while before I get a feel for what might be going on. The heat has also been good for the pinot noir: there’s what looks like an excellent crop hanging in the vines, and Theo the winemaker tells me it’s tasting good. More fingers crossed…

We got lucky


For Christmas consumption, a Burgundy truffle of a little under 200 grammes unearthed on Christmas Eve at Limestone Hills ((Photographed on Christmas morning, ribbon by C Russell.)). Not really very ripe, but it made a very nice addition to a champagne cream sauce ((Half bottle of fizz, truffle peeled and cut into thick matchsticks, bubbled together until reduced by half, then cream stirred in and simmered until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, poured over the cooked cray meat at the point of serving.)) for the enormous crayfish ((aka lobster, but without the big front claws.)) we enjoyed for a light lunch. Probably the first fresh Burgundy truffle ((Technically, Tuber aestivum syn uncinatum, known as the Burgundy truffle in Burgundy (!), or the summer truffle in Britain.)) to be eaten at Christmas in New Zealand. There are five more in the ground, and I’m waiting to see how long they’ll take to ripen properly — or if they do so at all. It’s supposed to be an autumn to early winter-fruiting truffle, after all. In the meantime, the compliments of the season to all.

Did we get lucky?


With apologies for the long gap between posts, here’s a little music for Christmas. Mark Knopfler performs his song Get Lucky, in which the last verse is relevant. It’s not a bad song, either…

Rosie’s big day at Bell Hill


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.

Time to ring some changes

Making things happen on the web (for me, at least) usually involves a few steps forward, a glass of wine, a step backwards, another glass of wine, then… what was it I was doing? But today, it being damp in the Waipara Valley, I have been trying to stay focussed and deliver a new version of the Limestone Hills web site. Not only was the old one incredibly out of date — still announcing our first truffle as if it was news — but events leading up to the publication of my next book (now retitled The Aviator) have made me rethink our web presence. So…

Limestone Hills is now built on WordPress, and the blog has given up its “blog” subdomain to find a home in the main site. Over the next week or two, I’ll be installing a small web store to handle sales of books (physical and digital), using Paypal to handle credit card processing rather than the manual process I’ve been using up to now. The empty home page and all the others will be populated with text and pictures, and there will be a lot of tweaking of sidebars and gadgets until I’m happy with the way it looks.

The Aviator will be launched in August, and already has its own Facebook page, plus a brand new blog ((Three blogs I’m running. I must be mad.)) which will record events in The Burning World. On The Farm will be for truffles, food, wine, farm, family and musing, and over at Hot Topic I’ll continue covering climate science and policy news as humanity sets about delivering a burning world for all our tomorrows.

In other web-related news, the Limestone Hills Facebook page has been seeing good traffic this truffle season, and is worth a follow if you want to know what we’re up to.

Now, where did I put that glass of wine?

[Richard Thompson]

You say it’s your birthday…

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It’s not my birthday too (yeah), but it was Paul McCartney’s 70th yesterday, and a friend on Facebook pointed me at this rather wonderful recreation of most of the second side of Abbey Road by New York tribute band The Fab Faux by way of celebration. Take twenty minutes out of your day and enjoy it in all its glory…

[oldfogeymode] I pre-ordered Abbey Road from a record shop in Tonbridge, and picked my copy up on the day it was released (September 26th, 1969). It got played rather a lot, and was the soundtrack to more than a few formative experiences… [/oldfogeymode]

On delivering a second draft

For the two and a half people who come here with some sort of regularity: big news. I have finished the second draft of my next book, a work of speculative fiction ((Which I usually describe as a science fiction comedy adventure satire. Others might prefer cli-fi, or climate fiction.)) with the working title of Lemmy, or Around The World By Airship. Since I announced the project over two years ago, I have been setting and missing any number of deadlines for its completion. The last few weeks have been spent rejigging and restructuring the book based on a preliminary read-through by my editor, the estimable Lorain Day. It’s been a bit like doing a cross between a jigsaw puzzle and a crossword puzzle, trying to make a Jackson Pollock into a Van Gogh, and now I leave the text — all 112,594 words of it — to Lorain’s tender mercies. A copy of the draft is also in the hands of the artist who will do the cover, the very wonderful Dylan Horrocks, who has, I think, only agreed to do it because there are airships involved ((Specifically, a very hi-tech and intelligent airship.)).

With luck and a following wind, I hope to publish Lemmy in a couple of months. It will be an ebook, available worldwide through Amazon for Kindles, and through everyone else for iPads, Kobos, Nooks, Sony Readers, iPhones and the rest. Or you’ll be able to buy it direct from me, if I can finally work out how to install a little web store on this site. Paper copies of Lemmy will be available soon after through print on demand services. More on the publication plans as they firm up over the next few weeks.