Aussie truffles on their way to the top

Australia is emerging as one of the top truffle producers in the world

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Frank Currenti, Hidden Valley Farm, Goulburn with kelpie pup Banjo. Banjo manged to find his first truffle at just 10 weeks old.

Frank Currenti, Hidden Valley Farm, Goulburn with kelpie pup Banjo. Banjo manged to find his first truffle at just 10 weeks old.

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Nearly 90 per cent of Australian truffles are exported.

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In 1999 the first truffle was harvested in Australia.

Since then the industry has grown exponentially and Australia is now the fourth largest truffle producer in the world, following Spain, France and Italy, with 12 to 14 tonnes produced last year.

Australian Truffle Growers Association president Noel Fitzpatrick said the industry expects Australia may become the second largest global truffle producer within 10 years.

"We think the growth trajectory will continue steadily. Many new farms have not yet begun production, whilst those that have, increase their yield each year,'' Mr Fitzpatrick said.

"When a farm starts to produce after four to five years, it's generally a small crop, but that grows exponentially over time."

He said currently around 70 per cent of Australia's truffles were produced in Western Australia, but the eastern side of the country was seeing plenty of new farms being established, including in NSW.

"There is a lot of activity in NSW, from south of Canberra, around Jindabyne right through to Oberon," he said.

Between 85 and 90 per cent of Australian truffles are exported, but since the COVID-19 outbreak that market had obviously taken a large hit.

"Exports are currently down by 70 to 80 per cent," Mr Fitzpatrick said.

"Australia normally exports to over 60 countries. Many of those countries are in more trouble than we are with coronavirus, with restaurants shut down and little prospect of being able to open again soon."

Just 20 years after the first truffle was harvested, Australia is the fourth-largest producer of truffles in the world and the industry is poised to continue growing.

Just 20 years after the first truffle was harvested, Australia is the fourth-largest producer of truffles in the world and the industry is poised to continue growing.

He said as truffles only had a shelf life of around two weeks, the export logistics were very time orientated.

"The whole process from harvest to delivery to the restaurant has to be done in just a couple of days."

However, despite its distance from the rest of the world, Australia is still well placed to capitalise on export markets when things return to a more normal situation.

"Black truffles are a winter crop, so we're harvesting when it's summer in the Northern Hemisphere and they're not producing truffles. We can sell a crop around the world when it's out of season for European producers," he said.

Home cooks embrace truffles 

While, the export market had suffered this year, there was much more interest from home cooks.

"We sell truffles online, directly into client's homes, and our numbers are well up, but in that market you're only selling 30g to 40g at a time," Mr Fitzpatrick said.

"All in all this year will be a struggle, I suspect a lot of truffles will be left in the ground and there's no harm in doing that, it can enhance next year's crop."

Frank Currenti, Hidden Valley Truffles, Goulburn, planted his first oak tree for truffles back in 2011.

"It was a bit of a gamble, but I believed on a small property if it worked, it could be a decent return," he said.

"But I joked that it would either be very successful or a very expensive wind break, but luckily, when the trees were seven we got our first truffles."

Mr Currenti, who also produces organic garlic and extra virgin olive oil, said he originally set up for export but due to the coronavirus outbreak he was now selling direct to Sydney restaurants or private buyers.

"Price depends on the shape and how they look, if it's a nice round shape, like an egg, you can get up to $3000/kg," Mr Currenti said.

He said the set up costs of the operation included buying in the trees, which are inoculated with the fungi, setting up irrigation and putting up animal proof fences as truffles are a desired meal for most creatures.

Kelpie with a nose for truffles

There is one key component to the truffle growing equation - a good dog.

Frank Currenti, Hidden Valley Truffles, Goulburn, recently got a new Kelpie puppy, Banjo, who remarkably found his first truffle at 10 weeks of age.

"I just didn't believe it, I thought it was a fluke, but he's found about a dozen so far," Mr Currenti said.

"Since the first week I got him, I started feeding him mince with truffle oil, so he associates the smell of truffles with food.

"In Europe they use female pigs, because truffle aroma mimics a male pig. But the problem is the pig wants to eat the truffle and it's tricky to hold it back."

He said a good dog would simply scratch the ground where they smell a truffle.

"The only thing they don't know if how ready the truffle is, that's up to you."

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