Below we answer some of the most common questions about Australian Truffles. Includes questions and tips about growing and enjoying truffles.
Questions About Truffles
Are Truffles Native to Australia?
There are many native Australian truffles that are an important part of our forest ecology, essential to healthy growth for certain tree species including many Eucalypts.
There are thousands of varieties usually buried in the leafy litter on the ground in our bush. The bulk of these truffles are not considered edible and form part of the food source for our native animals and birds.
As truffle producers, we concentrate on growing introduced species from Europe. The main truffle grown is Tuber melanosporum , the black truffle, or Périgord truffle.
How Many Truffle Types Are There?
Whilst there are over two hundred species of 'true truffles' only a handful are highly prized in culinary circles.
The most revered and best known, are the French black or Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum), the Italian white or Piedmont truffle (Tuber magnatum), the Summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), and Bianchetto (Tuber borchii).
Three of the four truffles mentioned above are relatively easily grown in Australia today. The most expensive truffle of the four, Tuber magnatum, the Italian white truffle has not been successfully produced anywhere in the world to date.
How Are Truffles Grown?
A truffle is the highly aromatic, subterranean, fruit of specialised fungi growing on the roots of specific host trees. Truffle fungi establish a relationship with a host tree, known as a mycorrhizal symbiosis. The fungi live externally on and around fine tree roots and develop a vast network of mycelium in the soil, formed by microscopic filaments called hypha
After selecting the right climate and soil type, these soils are modified to create an environment suitable to truffle production. Inoculated host trees are planted out when adequate time for soil adjustment has taken place. The plantation will be designed to suit the climate and local environment.
A Mediterranean climate is ideal, with warm summers, regular rainfall and cold winters preferred. If the project is set up well, first truffles should appear four years after planting become more productive as the trees age. Pruning, weeding and irrigation are the only ongoing tasks, but initial preparation of the soils is important. Truffles need very alkaline soil which means adding large quantities of lime.
Truffle production is reasonably complex. You can learn more about truffle growing by joining the association, and or attending a growers workshop.
How Do You Find Truffles?
The truffles complete lifecycle occurs underground. Nture has given the truffle a distinctive aroma to allow animals to detect them under the soil, consume them and them and then return them to the soil via their droppings.
Dogs (a range of breeds) are trained to locate truffles for farmers. Farmers may have hteir own dog or use a professional harvester.
Professional harvesters provide a valuable service to the industry, travelling extensively throughout the truffle season to farms in all regions.
Can I Inoculate Old Trees?
Attempting to inoculate old oak trees does not work. The pairing of the tree and fungi for truffle production has to happen a few months after the acorn has been germinated for best results.
This way there is always a balance between the trees root system with the truffle inoculation and the shoot system, or the above ground part of the tree.
Cooking with Truffles
Truffles are a natural glutamate, a flavour enhancer similar to garlic.
Added to almost any dish, savoury or sweet, they will improve the depth of flavour. Over-heating however, destroys the delicate aroma, so the recommended approach to using truffles for the first time is to shave or grate them onto the dish just before serving.
Another failsafe way to enjoy truffle for the first time is to incorporate them into a cream and cheese sauce to use with an appropriate pasta or gnocci dish. Add the truffles to the sauce after the heat is turned off and allow to infuse a a minute or two before serving.
Warm dishes like pasta, mashed potato, and risottos increase the release of the aroma.
Is Truffle Oil Made From Truffles?
Commercial truffle oils are manufactured by blending extra virgin olive oil with flavouring referred to as 'aroma or essence''. The flavouring may be naturally extracted or more commonly chemical based.
Truffle oil is made this way due to the high bacterial loading of truffle, meaning that if it is left in oil for more than a few days, it will send the oil rancid.
Truffle oil is a popular pantry item all over the globe as it can be used all year round. In many cases however, it is not a good representation of actual truffle aroma or flavour. It is a one-dimensional flavour that cannot successfully replicate the unique properties of fresh truffle.
Manufacturers may add a small amount of dried truffle for appearance. Check the labels and if it says 'contains truffle aroma or essence', it is synthetic.
You can make real truffle oil by adding fresh truffle to a good quality olive oil, however this should be used as a dipping oil only. Make it a day or two before use to allow the truffle to infuse the oil and then discard after the event.
Where Can I Buy Truffles?
There are a growing number of places that sell truffles on-line and air freight or Express Post your truffle direct to your door. Growers use cold chain packaging which keeps the truffles fresh in transit.
Fine food providores generally also stock or take orders for truffle throughout the season and farmers markets are also a popular way for local growers to sell fresh produce.
Store truffles in the fridge wrapped in absorbent paper in a sealed glass jar. Change the paper each day to avoid excess moisture around the truffle.
It is best to use your truffle within a few days of arrival.
Where Can I Try Truffles?
Annual Truffle Festivals held each year are a great place to start. There will be an array of truffle dishes available so you have the chance to appreciate truffle in many forms.
Truffle hunt and tasting events are a great way to have a more complete truffle experience. These are held on truffle farms through the growing regions. You will learn a little about how they are grown, participate in a truffle hunt and then taste truffle in a range of dishes.
There are many Australian restaurants and cafes who feature truffle dishes through the truffle season.
The truffle season in Australia begins mid June and runs until late August.
What Goes Well With Truffles?
Start with simple dishes like scrambled eggs, risottos, mashed potatoes or celeriac which all seem to let the flavour shine through.
Truffle has a natural affinity with fats, so milk, butter, cream and eggs carry it’s flavours and odours (which is a big part of what we call taste). If it is used shaved in slices or grated over a warm dish such as pasta or risotto, the heat releases that unique smell and prepares you for eating it.
The Italian white truffle is considered so refined that the idea of cooking it and driving off the scent means it is almost always shaved at the table, or made into a fresh paste.