STORY AND IMAGE S BY R ICHARD CORNI SH
Abbie the truffle dog runs excitedly beneath the oak trees. She stops at a small mound of earth under a tree and gives a delicate scratch at the surface of the soil. Her handler Sue Daly looks pleased. “Another truffle,” she says. She takes out a small trowel and carefully digs around the mound with archaeological like delicacy to reveal the subterranean source of the bulge. It’s a truffle. A great big black truffle. A delicacy originally from Europe they are so valuable they are sold by the gram. Two dollars and fifty cents per gram. A decent sized piece to shave over your pasta will cost $25.
You will learn all this, however, when you visit Truffle Treasures, a beautiful farm and truffiere at Spargo Creek between Daylesford and Ballan. On it is a hectare of Holm Oaks inoculated with black truffle spore and planted by sisters Sue and Sharon Daly 12 years ago. “The truffles and the oaks have a symbiotic relationship,” says Sue as we wander the truffiere, surrounded by Wombat State Forest. “The oak trees send sugars down their roots to the truffle fungus,” she explains. “In return, the thread like fungus spread out around the trees and find micronutrients for the oak trees. It is quite a wonderful thing.”
The truffles are the fruiting body of the fungus and form during summer. (In the wilds of Europe the truffles were once rooted out by wild boar and from there the spore would spread.) Sue and Sharon irrigate the trees until the first rains of autumn. As the weather cools and the days shorten the truffles grow in size. As winter sets in and the nights become very cold the truffles develop their rich aroma. The truffle harvest lasts from June to August.
The sisters were originally from the Clare Valley, South Australia and came to Daylesford for a holiday. They fell in love with the area and bought the 10ha property at Spargo Creek. “We left Sue in charge of farm management,” laughs Sharon. “And she went and planted a truffle farm!” The sisters had never seen or tasted a truffle but thought it was a growing trend. They now grow some of the best truffles in the state. Chef Hugh Maxwell from nearby Sault Restaurant rates them highly and uses them in dishes such as Holy Goat piccolo and Jerusalem artichoke topped with shaved truffle.
We walk inside the dining room at Truffle Treasures. Abbie and Holly the truffle dogs are resting after their hunt in the oaks. The room is filled with the rich and enticing of truffles sitting on the bench. Savoury, fruity, sweet garlic, mushroom – truffle has an ethereal and elusive aroma. Under a glass cloche sits a massive truffle worth almost $1000. Customers walk in and buy chunks to take home and grate over their morning eggs. Sue and Sharon offer truffle hunts with the dogs in which two teams of 10 people battle it out to see which team can get the most truffle. It takes just over three hours and finishes with a warming bowl of truffled cauliflower soup followed by chocolate custard made with truffle infused eggs. (7, 14 and 27 July Cost $85 pp). They also offer a shorter hunt followed by a five-course truffled lunch at Sault Restaurant (20 July and 3 August $190 inclusive).
Truffle Treasures, 68 Sultana Rd, Spargo Creek; Farm gate sales Fri-Sun 1pm-5pm; truffletreasures.com.au