1511 gram truffle!

Truffle #348, first spotted on 22 February 2016 in the first wave of covering near surface truffles, I had no idea of the actual size until late last Thursday when I was protecting truffles against the 21 Celsius day.  The ripening aroma’s being released made Lani mark the truffle enthusiastically, and I/we started digging… deeper, … and deeper.  Some 45 minutes later it was finally extracted from the ground. It was then cleaned, and air dried overnight.

I’ve had a lot of large truffles this year, many 4 to 5 hundred grams, with some noteable specimens including 630g & 800g.  But this one weighed in at 1511 grams!

1511g truffle
1511 gram T. melanosporum
1511g truffle tree
The hazel tree, 1511g truffle, Stuart & Lani

Being a Thursday, it was a bit late in the week for marketing, and none of my regular customers could handle a truffle of this size.  Other buyers could have been found, but there’s been a lot of “we’ll call you” responses from restaurants this year, so I decided I’d rather preserve it instead.
5 grams does a bottle of truffle vodka, so it’s big enough to infuse 210 litres (44gallon drum), although it will more likely be used for future promotional activities.

1511g Truffle in hand
Truffle & Truffiére

It’s certainly more satisfying to be able to keep (and show) it, than simply be saying “I once had a truffle that was…”

Why is truffle so cheap?

A general summation of market factors as I am aware of them.

Growing Truffles

Like any farm industry, there is a lot of support work in an orchard once it reaches commercial production. Vineyards do not simply harvest grapes a few weeks a year, nor are truffles in Australia simply foraged in the wild!
In both instances, without a lot of support work in the months before harvest, only a fraction of the crop would ever survive to reach the table.

For myself, the support work, on top of the harvest season itself in 2015, was ~1200hours, basically a full time job for eight months, {and should have been more}.
This equates to about 30 hours per kg of saleable truffle,

Admittedly, a lot of the work is of my own making, with a substantial amount of research being conducted alongside the maintenance. My insistence on being spray free also increases the workload. Finally, being very particular during harvest to achieve fully ripe truffles also adds a few additional hours per kg.
But even if I were to join the chemical maintenance club, and lowered my harvest standards, I doubt the work would drop below an average of 15hrs/kg. Other growers I’ve spoken with have concurred that 10-15 hours per kg is a realistic summation.

Simply put, for a grower, this means the price received for 1 to 2 kg of truffle is your weekly wage for 8 months, and the remaining 4 months is unpaid or other income (don’t give up your day job, just take 8 mths off per year…)

Continue reading “Why is truffle so cheap?”

Autumn tasks, remove spoiled truffles and blackberry seedlings

From the first surface truffles appearing end of February 2016, it has been a continual process inspecting & protecting them with additional soil cover. With more truffle eruptions each week, this will continue until season starts, but will soon slow as the tree’s shut down for winter. Without protection, over 80% of the surface truffles would not survive until harvest time. A portion are forming at reasonable depths, but can still become exposed to damage through soil cracks.

spoiled trufs & blackberries
Autumn tasks, remove spoiled truffles and blackberry seedlings

Six weeks worth, 7.5kg (in bags) of spoiled truffle has been removed so far, which surprisingly is a cause for celebration! It’s a bit less than last year, with more than double the truffles located, so a significant reduction in spoilage… so far. From past experience, about the same amount can be expected to spoil between now and the end of the season.

Causes will vary widely from damage by fungi, insects and animals. Frost and heat damage can also occur, and they can even be squeezed by tree roots, or suffocate depending on soil structure and rainfall.

Autumn Truffle Burns (Brulé)

Brulés in the Truffle Orchard
Brulés in the Truffle Orchard

This area was last mowed around a month ago. Autumn rain has greened the orchard, and the trees with active truffle colonies are quite visible.

  • Within the truffle burn (brulé -french for burnt) there is still some live grasses, but the burns are quite distinct compared to the inactive trees.  There no herbicides used in our truffle orchard at any time, the visible depletion of grass above is entirely due to the action of the truffle mycelium in the soil, where it lives on the tree’s roots.
  • There is a newly producing tree centre of the photograph and two more trees with truffles at 2 and 10 o’clock positions. There are also nice brule’s around the trees in the foreground, left and centre right.  As can be seen elsewhere in the photo, not all the trees have visible signs of truffle activity, and may never develop any.
  • Does a brulé mean there will be truffles? Simple answer, no, it’s just more likely to produce.  There are other competing fungi that can cause burns, and the truffle may not be ready to fruit this season, or lack some other requirement.  Active trees can also skip a few seasons before producing again, or become fully inactive.
Hazel tree needs maintenance
This Hazel tree has produced for the first time, and is in need of some maintenance.
  • Loose leaf litter is raked away from the brulé as it provides an environment for insects.
  • The hazel suckers are removed, sometimes leaving one and removing an angular branch. The primary goal of this is a tree shape which promotes soil warmth in Spring which start’s next season’s truffle activity.
  • Grass near the trunk is removed by careful cultivation, removing insect shelter.
  • There are also three near surface truffles on this tree (white tags), and a rotten one was removed.
  • This process took an hour, and there are 400 hazelnut trees in the truffle orchard, so priority is currently given to active trees. The rest will be done as time permits.
Hazel tree & Brule maintained
Hazel tree pruned, truffle burn cleared, surface truffles covered

Oak trees are easier to clear, but a little late for this as it one had a rotten truffle on the left side of the trunk, with insects sheltering in the grass likely culprits. The tree was double trunked several years ago, and was converted to a single with gradual pruning for minimal impact on growth.

Clearing Oak
Clearing Oak

Autumn, first signs of truffle

Although truffles first form in December, the first visible signs generally show in late February or Autumn.  These surface signs occur on the portion of the truffles that have either formed too close to the surface, or become so large a substantial amount of soil has been pushed toward the surface.

Surface_Truffle_Sign_114644
Truffle Push
Surface_Trufffle_Sign2_114753
Two truffles revealed

With access opened to the truffle via the cracks in the soil, these truffles are more susceptible to insect damage (Eg. slater & millipede in second pic above).  Regular searches for such signs, inspection and removal of rotten/damaged truffles, and covering the good ones is an important task at this time of year.  Rabbit’s that manage to get past the fencing are also attracted to the disturbed soil, and expose the truffles, sometimes learning to eat them too..

Along with other tasks, Autumn is now a full time job.  For every days work in harvest season, there’s around 5 days in supporting work such as this.

Recipe -Birch Boletes

Cooking Birch Boletes

Simple recipe that works well, birch boletes have a beefy taste, and are described as “meat of the forest” in Russia

Not a truffle recipe, but they grow on our farm, and a combination of dried bolete’s in a truffle rissotto is eagerly anticipated.

Birch boletes & ingredientsINGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 Shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 Garlic Clove, pressed
  • Bowl of Birch Boletes ~250g, sliced ~7mm thick
  • Dollop of cream, 1 to 2 tablespoons
  • salt to taste

Slice caps ~7mm thick,  soft stems crosswise, and set aside dry woody stems for use elsewhere in a stock base.

Heat oil in frying pan on low heat, add butter and melt together.  Increase the heat, and add shallot and garlic, fry for around a minute.  Add the boletes and cook with occasional stirring until most of the boletes have softened/changed colour. Add the cream and generous pinch of salt and stir lightly for a further minute until it visible changes to a sauced consistency.

Serve Hot.  Divine with gnocchi, or combines wonderfully with mashed potato and roast lamb.

Truffle hunts, foot traffic and biosecurity.

Competing fungi and heavy feet are two major risks to maturing truffles;

Biosecurity

Many agribusinesses require visitors to utilise some form of biosecurity to protect their business and investment.  This varies according to the type of industry from simple footbaths, to full clothed protection for smokers (eg .tobacco leaf virus can destroy tomatoes in greenhouses)

For our truffiere, besides insect pests, there are other fungi that also like to form symbiotic relationships with trees. ECM (ectomycorhizal) fungi compete with truffles for space on the new root tips, and in some cases can totally displace truffle from a tree. Some of our trees were contaminated with these fungi before delivery, with fairy rings of mushrooms growing out from the trees since early years.

Ecm fungi on tree
Ecm fungi on tree

This affects around 15% of trees in our truffiere and it is likely we will need to remove and destroy many of the affected trees. Here the tree in the foreground has no signs of truffle at all, but is entirely circled with ECM fungi spreading outwards. Near the dogs is an actively producing tree, with a nice truffle brule around it, the roots from the infected tree will soon reach the brule with unknown consequences.

Current insects that attack near surface truffles ( less than 1” deep) are; snails, slugs, centipedes, slaters (especially the hard shelled “butchy boys”), springtails (1mm grey bug) and finally the occasional mushroom fly (fungus gnat). Management of these is limited to controlling the physical environment, such as reducing leaf litter, and locating at risk truffle early enough to cover with extra soil. We don’t believe chemical controls are acceptable with such a deliciate symbiosis between truffle and tree, nor for a gourmet product.
The last thing we need is additional insects or fungi.  We now provide gumboots for the few times a year guests visit the truffiere.  This an improvement on the previous use of footbaths which was time consuming, and less effective than farm provided boots.  If you do visit a farm elsewhere, ensure you have no soil on your boots, and use footbaths when asked.

There are various other insects and fungi known to cause problems elsewhere in Australian truffiéres, so each area has its own problems, and we all need to do our best to keep our problems local.

Foot Traffic

Here a large truffle has been stepped upon, or hit by a wheel during Autumn slashing in 2014. It was a surface truffle, ~300grams, substantially exposed to Broken-surface-trufflerisk from feet and insects, the pressure cracked it open, exposing the interior and it then rotted.
This happened despite best efforts to keep our traffic away from high risk regions around known producing trees. This truffle was on a new tree and an unexpected 150 cm from the tree, which is unusual as first truffles generally appear next to the trunk.

What can we do?
Please follow any requests of truffle, wine growers etc. regarding footwear and other precautions, and only walk where instructed while on farm, this  partially reduces the risks to the grower. Utilise any provided disinfectant baths both entering and exiting the property.

2014 preparation underway

Truffle push
Truffle push

The 2014 season is looking great!  Recent pruning work in the truffiére has found a significant number of newly producing trees.  Some have had long existing brulé yet no truffles until now.  These have already revealed themselves, although current focus is on pruning, yet to come is the tending of the ground around the trees which typically discloses many truffles to an experienced eye.

 

Bear-&-Lani
Bear introducing Lani to the truffiére (and hazelnuts)

Assisting this effort has been the delightful company of our truffle dog trainee, Lani.  She is an Italian dog breed, Lagotto Romagnolo, which roughly translates as a “Lake dog from the Romagna region”, where they were traditionally used as water retrievers, and more recently as truffle dogs.
She is a highly energetic dog, on the go (hunting) all day long and not dissuaded in the least by wet weather.  Hopefully we can redirect this drive into finding truffles, with the willingness to work in wet weather definitely being beneficial to our July/August harvest season.

Current training sees her already walking without a lead out front by several metres, returning to heel at command.  This will be quite useful in avoiding lead entanglements in trees.  Next will be some scent location on command exercises.

Truffle Hunt 2013 with Chateau Yering

EDIT: For information on this seasons truffle hunts, http://www.yarravalleytruffles.com.au/truffle_hunt.html

The hunt in conjunction with Chateau Yering was conducted with two separate groups. We were fortunate the rain held off until after the last bus left.

700g Victorian Truffle
700g Victorian Truffle

Both groups found a nice truffle, but the random nature of truffle harvesting was amply demonstrated by the day’s/year’s best truffle being unearthed after the final bus left! If only we’d gone to that tree first! http://youtu.be/Z8O5qpriioU

After covering the basics on truffiere establishment, truffle life cycle, and a few questions, each group got to experience first hand the aroma arising from the soil around a ripe truffle.

Continue reading “Truffle Hunt 2013 with Chateau Yering”

Iceberg truffle!

Found this beauty under an oak tree, the perfume in the soil was superb and from the top I thought I’d found a truffle of around 200grams.  However it kept emerging from the soil like an iceberg, most of it was still well under ground, it weighed in at a massive 554grams!

This truffle found a home with Grossi Florentino in Melbourne.