Cordane Precious Peggoty (Peg) 2003-10

I’ve been using this little image of Peg’s self-cleaning olfactory apparatus as my web presence for years. It’s my gravatar and the favicon here and at Hot Topic. It was shot for The Truffle Book in 2005, when she was two years old and already a champion truffle hound. She died on Monday morning, poisoned by eating pindone bait laid to control rabbits. The bait was in stations designed to stop dogs getting to it, but beagles are greedy and resourceful, and somehow she managed to eat enough to kill her. The poison hit her in a way that fooled us all, vet included. Right now, I’d trade a thousand rabbits and the ire of my neighbours to get her back.

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Impatience #2

So I showed the first truffle of the year to Charles & Marie, staying with us for a couple of nights during the NZ leg of their world tour, and today decided to push my luck with a couple of other potential push-ups. And there was a good-sized truffle under each. Difficult to give any real idea of size, but they’re probably a good 50g each. Here’s hoping they get through to the end of June unharmed…

Digging in the dirt

Impatience is a terrible thing, but sometimes rewarding. Today, no longer able to resist poking at one of the suspected “push ups” in the truffiere, I scraped at the soil — and found a truffle. If it makes it through to maturity it’ll be a good size — perhaps 75 g or more. It’s been recovered with soil, and will be treated with great respect for the next couple of months while it summons up the wherewithall to ripen. And so to bed (with a grin).

[Peter Gabriel]

Michael’s big one keeps on growing (and other stories)


Michael Hyson’s first truffle is still growing — “being pushed up from underneath”, he tells me. Compare this picture (above) taken earlier this week with the one taken when he first found it — there’s definitely some inflation going on, and we can see that bugs and slugs are beginning to enjoy a feast. If I were you, Mike, I’d be covering that big boy with soil and sand… The local press have also been covering Mike’s success, including his urgent need to train a truffle dog. Meanwhile, closer to home (in fact just down the road) local grower David Powell has found his first bianchetto (tuber borchii) truffles, on eight year old trees.


David summoned me to his Broomfield truffiere ten days ago, and there were plenty of bianchetto to be seen pushing up around his trees. That’s great news for David and for the Canterbury region, which now boasts four black truffle and three bianchetto producers — making us the leading New Zealand truffle-growing province. This early crop of truffles is unlikely to fully ripen, however, so we’ll be waiting for winter and the main crop to savour his success.

Back at Limestone Hills, we’ve been having some truffle and mushroom fun as well. This lovely plate of mushrooms was cooked by Professor Wang Yun and his French colleague at Plant & Food Research Alexis Guerin-Laguette on my barbecue last weekend.


In the centre, we have a saffron milk cap prepared by Alexis in the Provençal manner: grilled over charcoal with the cap holding a generous dash of local olive oil, garlic and parsley. Wang then stir fried some porcini with onion and garlic. This was all done for the benefit of TV NZ’s Asia Downunder programme, who were filming a profile of Wang. We strolled around our trees with Peg, pretending to be on a hunt for truffles, examined roots, and I told tales of Wang’s exploits in the truffle business. Great fun, and the mushrooms were delicious. The show will be broadcast in May, and available on Youtube soon after. I’ll link to it as soon as it’s up.

The best news was that Wang had a good look around my small Burgundy truffle patch, and found excellent truffle mycorrhizae. That’s exciting, because it means the truffles could be close to fruiting (this year, or next?), and that would be a first for New Zealand. Consider my fingers crossed…

The purple fingers of oblivion

The purple fingers are from the wine we bottled today: 22.5 cases of Faultline pinot noir and 11.5 cases of Côtes du Waipara syrah, oblivion a warm place under a duvet in the near future. The bottling was done by hand, which means with a syphon into the barrel of wine (racked off its lees), into bottles which were corked by hand (using a wonderful old, slightly rickety, machine with a big lever on top), capsules heat-shrunk on to the tops, and then packed into cases. I took the siphon station, hence the purple fingers — which are now more black than red as oxidation runs its course. The wine now has to rest for at least six weeks to recover from the shock of bottling, and will improve further with time. If I can resist the temptation…

Yesterday we harvested the 2010 pinot vintage: about a barrel’s worth, as last year. The depredations of birds accounted for at least the same again — cue much discussion about improvements to netting for next year, focusing on the use of contrivances designed to push the nets out and away from the bunches of grapes so that the birds can’t just push their beaks through to the fruit. It’s far too early to say how good this year’s wine will be, but I have to be down at Waipara West by 9am in the morning to process the fruit through a de-stemmer and into a fermenter. Then it’ll be regular visits to plunge the caps. Rob the winemaker will make sure nothing goes wrong.

Thanks to all our friends who helped over the two days, especially Barry & Sue who did both days, Peter, Richard, jet-lagged Charles, Scott and Camille’s aged parent Norman, who picked through the cold drizzle and demolished the pig(*) with great relish, and Julie who arrived in time for the pig and stayed to help with the bottling. Your collective company made working a pleasure.

(*): Being a half a shoulder of pork, boned and rolled with the skin on, treated with a dry rub of Louisiana spices (paprika, cumin, chilli, cayenne, pepper & salt, brown sugar, etc: recipe originally nicked from Trevor in London at least 15 years ago, and now a family favourite), then roasted in a low oven for at least three hours (preferably longer — I usually use the Webber BBQ and some mesquite chips, but it was a bit wet for that), served with a sweet and sour garlic sauce (simplicity: vinegar, brown sugar, lots of garlic boiled together), baked kumara (Pacific sweet potato), and a green salad. Not forgetting some substantial wine — it needs to be to deal with the robust flavours of the pork. Barry brought a meaty Aussie GSM, which was more than up to the task.

Wine update: grapes nearly ready…

The 2010 grape harvest is getting closer: the grapes are ripening well, and we’re aiming to pick them on Easter Sunday. Time to muster friends and family and offer them a good feed… This year the wine is being made by our neighbours at Waipara West, and I’ll be helping out by doing some of the plunging. The ’09s will be going into the bottle the following day, and these are the latest versions of the labels I’ve designed. Nothing will be available for two to three months, because the wine has to rest a while after bottling. Should be ready just in time for the truffle season…

Marlborough’s first truffle


This is the first truffle of the 2010 New Zealand season, the first ever found in the Marlborough region, and a first for Marlborough grower Michael Hyson and his Waihopai Valley truffière. It’s nowhere near ripe yet, but as Michael exclaimed when he rang me with his news yesterday morning, “Gareth, it’s huge!”. And it is at least big — that scale is in centimetres, so the top of the truffle is about 7 cm across. The very slight reddish tinge to the surface is typical of immature melanosporum, and Michael reports that the flesh (seen through a nick in the skin) is still white. That skin damage and the fact that it has grown out of the soil surface means the chances of it surviving through to full ripeness (probably late June/early July — around three months) are poor, but where there’s a big one, there’s almost certainly more. The Hyson family’s trees are eight years old. I hope their success is echoed in other young truffieres around the country in the coming season.

I also have my fingers firmly crossed for this year’s harvest at Limestone Hills. At the beginning of the week I was pretty certain that I’d found a couple of “push ups” — where the soil surface cracks open as a truffle grows rapidly underneath — but I resisted the temptation to check on progress because one slip with the trowel, and the truffles might never ripen.

Being the first part of the next book

I promised at Christmas that I would make an early draft of the intro and first chapter of my next book available here at the end of January. That deadline slipped a little (no surprises there), and I haven’t finished the first chapter, but here’s a draft of an introduction. Working title is Lemmy, final title unknown. By way of experiment, you can hear me read it here. I used the iPhone Audioboo app, so there are a few stumbles, little polish.

Beyond revealing that I stole the basic idea from a bloke called Swift, I’m not going to go into more detail about the rest of the book because it hasn’t been written yet, and much might change. I added a whole new voice today, for example. My intention at the moment is to make the finished story available as a low cost ebook and print-on-demand paperback. When is a good question. Do not hold your breath.

Truffle dogs and Chinese truffles (but not Chinese truffle dogs)

Since we’re in catching up mode, here a couple of articles I’ve been meaning to make available for some time. The first is a paper [PDF] on Chinese truffles commissioned by Gastronomica (the prestigious US food and culture journal) in 2008, which draws heavily on my experiences in China in 2007. It discusses the impact of Chinese truffles on the world truffle market, and the prospects for the future.

Admirers of Peg the beagle (and dog lovers in general) will enjoy this six page feature [PDF] from New Zealand’s Pet magazine (issue 47, June-August 2009). The truffle hound’s on fine form, but please ignore the pictures of her boss. Jean-Paul Pochin did a great job on the words and pictures.