By Darcy Watt
Heavy rain and deep frosts have meant Australian truffle farmers are producing incredible truffles this season, but COVID-19 lockdowns are making it hard for farmers to sell to Sydney restaurants while also putting a dint in the number of truffle hunters.
“A major part of my business is offering educative truffle hunts. We mostly get culinary experts and people from Sydney visiting for a trip to the countryside. We are still operating our tours, but it hasn’t been as busy due to the lockdowns.”
David Burdis from Ganymede Truffles
David owns and operates Ganymede Truffles in the Southern Tablelands, just outside of Marulan. As a subset to the farm, David hosts truffle hunts which are extremely popular in harvest season – June through August. The hunt is followed by a truffle-inspired lunch hosted amongst ruins of an old worker’s cottage built around 1820.
‘Tis the season
Carmine Di Campli from Fish River Truffiere is uncovering the most pungent, aromatic truffle products he’s harvested in the six years he’s been operating.
“The cold has made the aromas stupendous. Large volumes of water have established an abundance of truffles and they are particularly large,” said Carmine.
“The recent lockdowns have meant most restaurants are closed and we haven’t sold much of our product. We sell to local Bathurst restaurants and throughout the Sydney market but at the moment, no one is buying,” Carmine said.
Carmine is solely focused on selling his produce within the local market. He hopes one day to host truffle hunts, but at the moment it isn’t viable for him.
“As soon as lockdown ends, I’m sure people will want to treat themselves so I have no doubt we will be busy again because it’s such a feel-good product,” he said.
“Truffle farmers aren’t heavy producers. It’s so far removed from mechanised high-intensity farming. It’s a primitive process and so, for individual producers, it’s difficult to get into exporting internationally,” David said.
Man’s best friend
Both Carmine and David grow French Perigord Truffles, otherwise known as Black Diamonds. They hunt for truffles with their dogs.
“Zazu is a Kelpie Collie cross who was originally trained as a drug detector dog. Everyone who visits for a truffle hunt gets a kick out of seeing the process. Going around with a dog sniffing the ground is very haphazard,” David said.
Dogs are trained to sniff out and indicate (with a pat of the paw or some un-earth them) where the truffles are – sometimes up to 30cm underground. Carmine and his two dogs – Frank and Luna – hunt for truffles amongst a mixed orchard of English Oak, French Oak, and Hazelnut trees.
Dogs are now used in replacement of pigs to hunt for truffles as pigs had a tendency to eat the truffles. Although, Carmine says Frank occasionally gets too excited and has a little taste. They also have their own Instagram page – @frank_and_luna_truffledogs.
Carmine enjoys his truffles too. Unlike Frank, Carmine said, “I enjoy my truffles best on a toasty with white bread, grilled cheese and grated truffle. It creates a pocket that captures all the flavours. It’s glorious. It’s simple, but very indulgent.”
If you enjoyed this story on truffle hunting you might also enjoy this story on a new era for truffles in the highlands.
This article first appeared in The Farmer magazine.