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.

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.

Some of the good surface truffles

I’ve noticed that the focus of these blogs to date has been on the issues affecting the production of good truffles, bugs, damage etc. A summation of some of the good ones, and successful soil covered rescues seems in order.  So on today’s hunt I took the camera along, and since it has been raining already (a little extra water wont hurt), a squirt bottle to clean the tops of a few of the known ones for some photos.

Continue reading “Some of the good surface truffles”

Ripe, overripe, underripe all in one pre-season truffle.

Truffles do not always ripeTruffle slices; underripe, ripe, overripen evenly, this photo has sections cut from a preseason truffle which usefully demonstrates typical colours from left to right, for tissue that is;  Under-ripe / Ripe / Over-ripe. Note the visible moisture, and dissappearance of veining on the over-ripe slices. (photographic grey card at left).

 

Continue reading “Ripe, overripe, underripe all in one pre-season truffle.”