Hunting for truffles in Western Australia – with dogs!
Western Australia’s South West region has proven to be the ideal place to grow black truffles with the State producing more than the rest of Australia.
This truffle season (which runs from June to August) will see the region’s largest producer - The Wine & Truffle Co in Manjimup - harvest almost 3,500 kilos, which is a major achievement considering Australia produces 4,500 kilos in total.
Manjimup was identified many years ago as the ideal place to grow black truffles due to its rich soils and cool climate which are similar to those in renowned truffle destinations in Europe. The “black gold” found at the Wine & Truffle Co is now exported to top restaurants around the world such as Guillaume at Bennelong, Quay Restaurant and The Atlantic in Australia; as well as The French Laundry and Lever House Restaurant in the United States to name but a few. In 2010, more than 70 per cent of the Company’s harvest was sent to 14 different countries.
Truffle manager and head hunter, Frances Lee has begun the task of finding the valuable harvest. With over 13,000 trees on the property to look under, she will use five dogs to scour the 70 rows of trees over the weeks ahead, assisted by up to 30 employees who are mainly made up of European backpackers. The picking of the truffles happens every five days and Fran hunts with the dogs and marks the truffles with a pink tag; then collectors come through the rows of trees and record the tree number, row number, how deep the truffle is and inspect it for damage. Dogs are taught not to eat truffles, they just find them with their powerful sense of smell and alert their “hunter” to the find. They are then rewarded with small pieces of chicken and carrot. Sunny (pictured) found 1.6 tonnes of truffles last year which grow on the roots of the trees.
Nearby trufferie - Oak Valley Truffles - harvested their first truffle in 2010 and are already exporting to Singapore, China and India. Well-known WA chef David Coomer of Star Anise and Pata Negra fame has also started growing truffles in the area. And, the first French Perigord Truffle to be grown outside of Manjimup was discovered in Toodyay (north of Perth) last month by chef Alain Fabregues (of Mundaring’s The Loose Box restaurant). Alain discovered the truffle on his property where he had been attempting to grow truffles for the past seven years.
Western Australia has certainly gone truffle mad – with an annual celebration now held in the Perth Hills to celebrate all things truffle! The 2011 Mundaring Truffle Festival will be held from Saturday July 30 to Sunday July 31 at Sculpture Park, with the two-day gourmet extravaganza featuring a selection of local, national and international food celebrities and chefs such as Stephanie Alexander, Alain Fabregues, Phillipe Mouchel and Malaysia’s Chef Wan. A full program can be found by visiting the event website: mundaringtrufflefestival.com
In addition, many restaurants around WA host truffle-themed dinners throughout the winter months, so keep an eye out for what’s on offer. And next time you see truffle on the menu, ask if it was grown in WA.
For more information, visit: westernaustralia.com