Truffle hunting; Digging for Black Gold
Dusty the dog darts around the bases of the hazelnut and oak trees, sniffing the earth frantically.
‘Show me the truffle Dusty, show me the truffle,’ her master affectionately instructs.
Our group eagerly follows her, anticipating a find. Dusty circles in on an area. We pause and watch closely. She scratches at the grassy surface, leaving a mark and seats herself proudly beside it.
Her master kneels down and brushes away the layer of dried grass and hazelnut shells. He presses his nose against the soil and inhales.
‘Got one!’ he reports.
Excited murmurs ripple through the group.
He reaches in to his pack and pulls out his excavation tools, a teaspoon and butter knife, then delicately digs through the soil, extracting a small, lumpy, black ball no bigger than a radish. Thrilled by our first find, we take turns smelling it, grinning with pure delight as we take in its wonderfully intense, earthy aroma…
Down in the southern heartland of New South Wales sits Tarago Truffles, a truffle farm boasting a picture-perfect panoramic view of rolling hills dotted with sheep. The air is also clear and crisp. The farm is also one of New South Wales’ most popular destinations for truffle hunting. Equipped with a guide, trained dogs and ‘excavation tools’ visitors forage through the sweeping rows of hazelnut and oak trees, digging for that aromatic delicacy. Returning afterwards to the farmhouse guests enjoy a homemade hot lunch garnished with lashings of truffle.
So what makes truffles especially unique? Truffles are a seasonal luxury carefully harvested by hand. Exclusive to the winter months, they thrive in frosty conditions and only develop in specific soil environments. They require a dog with a sharp nose and an expert to search for them. It is these necessities that give the truffle its precious, revered and expensive reputation. It is often joked that they are worth their weight in gold however there is truth to this little anecdote. These little babies are sold by the gram, yes by the gram! They fetch a clean $2 per gram here in Australia, and are often extravagantly higher in other parts of the world, especially for the white variety.
After spending two hours in the Tarago trufferie, our group, now with mud-caked hands, along with Dusty and Utah, our supremely intelligent truffle-hunting dogs, returned victoriously with a haul of around 30 truffles! Some were as small as radishes, others as big as a tennis ball, their price of which was passionately negotiated.
Other than describing its robust characteristics, it’s difficult to pinpoint what a truffle smells and tastes like. It varies by the region and conditions it is grown and particularly by the individual’s palate; just like grapes used for making wine and coffee beans. In our group some described it as similar to the taste of fresh beetroot while others noted a distinct sweet nuttiness. We all agreed though, its flavour is wonderful, with the ability to enrich any meal.
I suggest you mark your calendars for the 2016 season. Believe me, friends the taste of the fresh stuff is far superior to the synthetic truffle flavours you may be familiar with in honeys, infused oils, and butters, served in restaurants between seasons. The taste is worth the wait and the experience of searching and digging for your own truffle, dog by your side, is simply just a whole lot of fun!
Words by Amanda Chebatte