Tamar Valley Truffles - A European Flavour in Tasmania
Publishedon 29/07/2015 - 09:20 pm
Truffles in Tasmania
If the wise phrase that encourages us to not judge a book by its cover ever applied to food, the French black truffle would have to be a suitable subject.
Tuber Melanosporum or the world-renowned French Perigord Truffle is a very irregularly shaped fruiting body of a fungus that grows in a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots of either oak or hazel trees. Although modest and arguably unappealing in appearance, these subterranean gems are revered worldwide for their intense, unique flavour and strong aromatic smell.
Originating in Europe, the bulk of the world’s black truffle production still takes place in France, Spain and Italy. However, we’re proud to say that Tasmania now produces truffles for local use as well as domestic and international export.
Tamar Valley Truffles has been producing black Perigord truffles in Tasmania’s north since 2008. Located on the western side of Launceston in the Tamar Valley, the farm enjoys a beautiful setting alongside Lake Trevallyn and a cool, temperate climate, perfect for growing oak trees and of course, black Perigord truffles. The Tamar Valley Truffles farm was alternately planted with two species of oak, one of which is deciduous and the other evergreen.
“The farm has been in our family for forty years”, says Tamar Valley Truffles owner and founder Marcus Jessup, who recalls that their first foray into truffles wasn’t all based on exact science.
“Eighteen years ago, we thought we would try something new. We had heard about these truffles and we just tried it”. Nobody had grown truffles in Australia so we didn’t really know who to ask. Turns out, it suited the property well!”.
Although restaurants prefer truffles of 100-200g in size, there is a considerable range in the size of truffles that are produced. Those truffles of 100-200g are classed as ‘medium’ in size and amazingly, some truffles can grow to be around 1kg in weight. Some remain very small and are not harvested or processed.
“The biggest we’ve found is just under one kilo but generally they’ll be anywhere between the size of a pea and about 300g”, says Marcus.
“It’s quite exciting because you just don’t know how much you’re going to get, what you’re going to find and how many you’ll see. They’re just little bumps on the ground”.
Hunting for truffles has become somewhat of a popular Tasmanian experience in itself. Traditionally, pigs or dogs were used to locate truffles and this has not changed. The presence and parasitic nature of the fungus kills other vegetation (grass, weeds) around the base of the tree, alerting the truffle hunter to its presence. The truffles sometimes displace a small amount of soil as they grow and as a result, can be located by eye, however without the assistance of a four-legged sniffer, the process of harvest would be a lot more difficult!
Once harvested and in the hands of an enthusiastic chef, the possibilities for creative cooking with truffles are endless. Truffles can be added to any dishes to introduce their intense earthy flavour but for the first-timer, the golden rule is simplicity. If you’re happy to declare yourself as a truffle-rookie, adding truffles to scrambled eggs might be the perfect way to try your hand at cooking with them.
The Chef at Home
When quizzed on his favourite truffle recipe, Marcus is humble about his skills in the kitchen but emphasises that a truffle can turn a clumsy cook into a chef at home. “I’m not much of a chef but even when I use our truffles in mashed potato, they turn an everyday dish into something special”.
Next time you see Tasmanian truffles included on a restaurant menu, don’t let the opportunity pass you by… And if you are walking past an oak tree and smell an unfamiliar earthy scent of mushrooms, drop to your knees and start sniffing!
If you are keen to try your hand at truffle hunting, Tamar Valley Truffles run small group tours by appointment.