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:
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
A couple of weeks ago, RNZ National’s Country Life programme – in the shape of reporter Cosmo Kentish-Barnes – called in at the Hills and accompanied Rosie on a truffle hunt. I did far too much talking, but Cosmo skilfully edited my ramblings into a semi-coherent narrative. And we found truffles. Listen by clicking on the button below, or on the Country Life page here. There are pictures too…
I wasn’t expecting the 2014 truffle season to start on the first of January, but it did. We had some friends round for our traditional New Year’s Day lunch (ham with Cumberland sauce), and one or two said they’d like to see Rosie have a sniff round some trees. So I pocketed a few treats, hitched the excited little dog (did I mention she’ll do anything for a treat?) to her lead, and we headed out to the truffière. I was confident of being able to show the little group a few truffles poking their heads above the soil — I counted ten today — but Rosie went one better and found a lovely ripe 59g Burgundy truffle nestled well underground. Cue general excitement.
The truffle is not for sale. Some was used in truffle butter, served with yesterday’s crayfish supper, and more will be used in scrambled eggs for a weekend breakfast. I doubt there will be any left after that. But I do expect that we’ll have more ripe Burgundy truffle soon — and I have orders piling up from some of NZ’s top chefs. And a bag of butcher’s bones for a beagle…
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.
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.
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…
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:
(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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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).