Truffles are like an underground mushroom that grows in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of oak trees and hazelnut trees.
The first mention of truffles appears on inscriptions 4000 years ago. They are so mysterious that our ancestors thought them to be the result of lightning, warmth and water in the soil.
For hundreds of years truffles were harvested seasonally from truffle fields where peasants had long enjoyed their secret sources.
The black winter truffle or black Périgord truffle is named after the Périgord region in France.
With a rich and indulgent history dating back as far as the inscriptions of the 20th Century BC Neo-Sumerians, truffles have bewitched and beguiled food lovers.
During the middle ages, truffles were used by peasants to add flavour to different dishes, but it wasn’t until the Renaissance that they gained popularity, and as a result, their value increased to the point that is was only nobility and ‘kept women’ who served them at the table.
Italian composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini once said “I have wept three times in my life. Once when my first opera failed. Once again, the first time I heard Paganini play the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic.”
Truffles are fungal, fruiting bodies which grow in a symbiotic relationship on the roots of trees including beech, poplar, oak, birch, hornbeam, hazel, and pine. Depending on the variety, they fruit throughout the year, preferring a calciforous or clay soil, growing just under the surface amongst soil and leaf litter. In colour varieties of truffles can be black, dark brown, gray and even white. Despite their ‘not so glamourous appearance’ they’re revered for their flavour enhancing properties, a naturally occurring glutamate which brings out the best of any flavor.
Their strong flavour is often described as syrupy sweet. Black truffles also are used for producing truffle salt and truffle honey.
Specially trained dogs and pigs are used to search for the truffles. German research has found that the truffles contain a pheromone similar to that which is produced by male pigs during pre-mating behavior, and hence the attraction to sows, who are naturally attracted to the truffles.
With the truffle industry of France in the 21st Centrury experiencing a sharp decline due to deforestation, deterioration of soil quality and use of pesticides, production dropped sharply. In 1868, French production was estimated to be around 1588 tonnes (Chatin 1869); now it’s as low as 20 tons in the whole of France.
Truffle growing in the southern hemisphere was started in New Zealand in the late 1980s as a government initiative and was quickly followed by work in Tasmania.
This market has burgeoned in Australia, where there are now growers established in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. Australia is the fourth largest truffle producer after France, Italy and Spain.
Truffle production in Western Australia has only reached current successes in the last ten years, but that success has been exceptional with WA producing over 80% of Australia’s total truffle production.
Truffières generally take approximately six years to reach full production stage – with some varieties earlier and some later, all of which is highly dependent upon the local conditions. The South West of WA has shown excellent results in production and early production with some truffières achieving extraordinarily high and early yields.
The Australian Truffle Growers Association reports “Growers have been consistently getting truffles after 4 to 5 years with the new technology being employed”.
Truffles are like an underground mushroom that grows in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of oak trees and hazelnut trees