The Truffle is a mythical mushroom. Extremely rare in its natural form, truffle growers have managed to breed them, much to the delight of epicures.
A truffle is any of several species of fungus that grows entirely underground. The fungus is a network of threads that wind around and into the roots of trees like beech, poplar, oak, etc. The trees give the fungus sugar made from sunlight, the fungus gives the trees’ minerals and nutrients it gets out of the soil. Everyone’s happy.
In order to reproduce, the fungus threads grow a big smelly underground tuber. The tuber has such a strong smell animal can smell it underground. They dig up the tuber to eat it, which spreads dirt and spores all over the place. Some of the spores might land next to tree roots and grow into new fungal threads.
Humans like the strong-flavored tuber, too. Even tiny pieces of it are enough to add flavor to food. Dogs and other animals with good senses of smell are used to find it, and then people dig it up.
The truffle comes from mycelium, a mushroom classified in the category of subterranean ascomycete fungi (the spores are enclosed in a bag). About 30 species have been recorded, among them the Perigord Truffle which is particularly tasty, the summer truffle (Tuber aestivum) which has a lighter flavor, and the Alba truffle which is found only in the Italian Piémont region, and is distinguished by its white color.
There are 160 Truffle growers across Australia commanding prices of up to $3500/kg! These Truffles are scattered from Victoria to Western Australia.
It must be emphasized that truffle growing is not a “get rich quick” project and should be viewed as a long term investment with very specific requirements for truffle growth. Many growers have been consistently getting truffles after 4 to 5 years but can be up to 10.
Truffles are commonly grated or thinly sliced onto food or into dishes as the flavor is quite strong. Truffle Oil is also a common use. This is made by combining high-quality olive oil with freshly sliced truffles and drizzled over foods to enhance the flavor. This includes but not limited to toasted sandwiches, French fries, salad, steak pizza crust, and eggs. Both Black and White truffles are available however the White truffles are proving too much harder to grow in Australia.
Truffles are expensive because it is very hard to farm them. They only like very specific kinds of soil and tree. Because they live inside tree roots, you can’t just plant truffle seeds in a field or something. Usually, you have to find trees small enough to transplant growing in an area that already has truffle fungus, and dig up the small trees and plant them in a new area with the right kind of soil. The fungus that is living inside their roots will hopefully be transferred to the new area, and in 10-20 years, you might start getting truffle tubers there.
In the 1800s, many truffle forests were planted by this method in France, and truffles were common in the 1800s and 1900s. Everyone in France could afford them. However, World War II damaged the French countryside so much that many of the truffle forests were lost. Truffles are much rarer now than they have been for centuries, and have become fancy food for rich people to eat.
In the last 30 years, people have started planting truffle forests again – in France, Australia, the US, Chile, and New Zealand – so the price of truffle should go down over time as more truffle forests start producing tubers. Hopefully, someday we’ll be back to the Truffles For Everyone prices of the early 1900s.
Being a variety of mushroom, truffles grow and mature underground close to the roots of some types of trees. Commonly used in Australia are oaks and hazelnuts which are native to Europe where the truffle originated. The fungi create a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots, called mycorrhiza, and the truffle develops from this.
Truffle harvest in Australia begins around June and is commonly done using working dogs trained for the job. Similar to “bomb squad” or “drug dogs” their sensitive noses can pick up the smell with ease.
Colour of Truffle
Depending on the species, the truffle varies in color from deep black to white. The Perigord truffle, which everybody considers to be “real” truffle, has an irregular tuber form covered by a skin which comprises tiny pyramids with four, five or six faces which make it look like a diamond from the outside. Beneath the skin, the flesh or “gleba” is a deep black color with white veins running through it. This mushroom is known for its characteristic intense aroma which has captured the most refined of palates for centuries.
Starting Producing the Truffle
Truffle harvesting starts in November, peaks in mid-January and ends in mid-March. Even though some truffles have weighed up to a kilogram, the average weight is between 20 and 50 grams. Extremely rare in its natural state, the truffle has been grown for centuries in truffle . It grows in light, brittle, well-drained, calcium-rich soil, alongside certain , generally oaks, but also hazelnut trees, walnut , blackthorn and field maple trees. When the is in the farm, it takes at least ten years before its roots are colonized and the first truffles appear.
The truffle is grown mainly in the USA (Perigord, Languedoc, Bourgogne…) but other less flavorsome varieties grow in China. The truffle farms in the southwest of the USA are the most productive with an average of thirty tonnes harvested each year.
Did You Know?
The truffle is often said to be an aphrodisiac. In fact, there is no proof of this! However, its perfume is fairly close to that of the sexual organs of pigs…This explains why the sow naturally goes in search of the black diamond!
Hot Summers and cold Winters are required for truffle development. Mean daily temperature of about 20 degrees in January and mean daily temperature of about 5 degrees in July is ideal. Some growers claim that a minimum of 7 touches of frost is ideal, however, plantations in Manjimup get almost none.
Truffles grow in free-draining poor quality soils. Soil also needs to have a high pH, somewhere between 7 – 8. It is common for farmers to Lime the area to raise the PH prior to planting.
A minimum rainfall of at least 700 mm per year is required with good rain in the summer months to set the truffles. Alternatively, if the soil and climate are otherwise suitable irrigation can be used. It’s often handy to have irrigation as a drought control and for extra watering. Not having access to irrigation could affect the harvest quantities.
Although the truffle will keep fresh in a cool environment for a couple of days, freezing is recommended if you wish to keep longer than 2-3 days. Truffle is said to aid digestion when consumed in moderation and it is believed to be an aphrodisiac!
We have many of the right conditions on our property except the rainfall, perhaps this is a niche we should try? Do you have an opinion on the fabled Truffle? Comment it.