STORY BY RICHARD CORNISH
PHOTOS SUPPLIED BY BLACK CAT TRUFFLES
here is a chill in the air. The surrounding bush is quiet but there are two boisterous dogs amongst the oak trees. Ella and Marla are truffle dogs and they have their noses to the ground sniffing out the truffles under the rich red earth. “They tell us where the truffles are,” says truffle grower Andres Haas from Black Cat Truffles. “But they don’t tell us how ripe they are.” That is a job for humans. He and his wife Lynette have good noses. They spend a good deal of winter on their knees determining when their truffles are ripe for harvest.
Their 6ha property is at Wattle Flat between Daylesford and Ballarat where 2.6ha was planted out with deciduous English Oak and evergreen Holm Oak 11 years ago. The trees were inoculated with a fungus, Tuber melanosporum, also known as Perigord Truffle or French Black Truffle. Andres explains that the truffle is the fruiting body of the fungus. The fungus is a mycelium, an underground web of white fibres that live in a symbiotic relationship with the trees. The tiny filament like threads intertwine with the tree roots. The tree gives the fungus glucose from the sap while the fungus forages for minerals in the soil for the tree.
Over spring the spore bearing truffles begin to form underground. Over summer and autumn, they grow to their full size but it takes a drop in soil temperature for the spores to grow and their distinctive aromas to develop inside the truffle. When ripe the aroma permeates the soil, and has an enticing aroma somewhere between sweet fungus and musk. “There are compounds in the truffles that are similar to the sex hormones in pigs,” says Andres. “Which is why in Europe they have been known to use pigs in the hunt for truffles. While they have really sensitive snouts they also have a ravenous appetite for truffles which means that a lot of truffles end up inside the pigs. Most people use dogs these days.”
Andres and Lynette are busy over winter checking their thousand or so trees several times a week seeing which trees have ripe truffles attached to their roots. This winter they continue their popular truffle hunts. These start mid-morning on chilly winter weekends where guests rug up and hunt about the oak trees with the hounds. Guests are offered special truffle
digging tools to scrape away the earth and reveal the truffle hidden beneath. This is done very carefully and slowly as truffles are an expensive item, $2.50 per gram. The largest removed from the ground at Black Cat Truffles was 990g. You do the math. The truffle hunt is followed by a taste of truffle dishes including truffle butter spread on fresh baguette, truffled zucchini and leek soup, truffled potato dauphinoise and truffled ice cream with a glass of Champagne. Cost is $115 per person. If you can’t make a hunt stop by the farm gate over winter to buy fresh truffle or order a truffle dish made with Black Cat Truffles at: The Lake House or Bistro Terroir, Daylesford; Farmers Arms, Creswick; Craig’s or Underbar, Ballarat.
Black Cat Truffles;
150 Howards Rd, Wattle Flat;
Sat-Sun 10am-4pm (Winter);