WHAT ARE TRUFFLES?
The Truffle is not an outgrowth, or a gall, that occurs on the roots of certain plants. Nor is it the result of a lightning strike, or the spittle of nasty witches lurking in the forests, as was once long believed. It is quite simply a fungus belonging to the family of ascomycetes (the spores are enclosed in bags) and yet has two distinguishing features: to be underground (hypogean) and to live in symbiosis with a tree (oak, hazel, pine, lime).
This fungus is mycorrhizal, which means it needs a host tree, and saprophyte, because it feeds on organic matter from decomposing plants. The fruiting bodies it produces annually are rounded, irregular or lobed: these are the actual truffles. They are buried in the soil to a depth of 5 to 30 centimeters, of variable size (usually 5 to 10 cm in diameter), its average weight varies between 20 and 100g. However, it can reach 500 grams or more: a specimen found recently at Borrodell weighed 1.6 kg! The record for the largest truffle ever found was 10.5 kilograms! A kilo of truffles, depending on the quality and the season, is usually priced between $1000 and $3000 AUD.
There are about thirty varieties of truffles, eight of which are useful in regards to taste – the tastiest is undoubtedly the “Périgord truffle” (Latin: Tuber Melanosporum). The Périgord truffle is a botanical name derived from the region of its origin in France. Indeed, it grows naturally in the South East of France, and found in Italy and Spain.
The truffle cycle begins in spring and lasts nine months. It grows during the summer and matures in the fall. The harvest begins with the early winter frost, all the way through to the end of winter.
Since ancient times, the truffle has been well-known, although it was not until the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin to give it its true pedigree in his book Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), published in December 1825. Indeed, for a long time, the truffle was not used to its full advantage, because it was usually served with strong spices. According to the ancient Apicius, a collection of Roman cookery recipes thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD, truffles were served by the Romans at the end of meals, marinated in ginger sauce and cinnamon. The Arabs were also to cook the truffles in a herb jus. The Turkish botanist Dioscoride, Roman philosophers Cicero, Pliny, Plutarch, poet Juvenal, Greek Athenaeus, and politician Lucullus all held the truffle in very high esteem – a “gift” of the gods. After Roman times, there were a few more recipes discovered in the Middle Ages however not until the Renaissance (after Popes from Avignon made the truffle fashionable again) was the truffle to reappear as a staple on the dining tables of princely homes and estates.
The only thing for sure is that the truffle can not be ignored. Its scent is very powerful – an unforgettable blend of both mineral streaks and animal secretion! The Perigord black truffle has a unique smell of undergrowth, soil and humus, sublimated of toasted nuts. Its taste is fine and peppery and reminiscent smells already cited.The Perigord black truffle adorns everything on contact. C are exceptional organoleptic qualities, and its relative scarcity, make truffles one of the most expensive foods in the world. This is one of the few agricultural products whose demand is greater than supply.
STORY OF TRUFFLES AT BORRODELL
In the late nineties, Gaye and Borry went to Tasmania with the idea of investigating the cultivation of saffron. However they became fascinated with the concept of growing truffles instead, an industry that had slowly been developing in laboratories there since the ‘70s. One hundred trees were planted back at Borrodell and quickly followed by a further planting of another five hundred, making Borrodell a pioneer of the truffle industry on the mainland.
After roughly six years the first harvest was imminent so the question emerged as to how to find a truffle. An application went in for a retired airport sniffer dog from Canberra, a labrador called Spike, who upon arrival was more enamoured by cellar door customers then sticking his nose in the dirt! It was no wonder the cute little dog was a failed sniffer dog! He never found a single truffle. Luckily a local dog trainer spotted the opportunity and trained her bitser to sniff out the truffles. And so the truffle industry in Orange was born.
The annual truffle season at Borrodell has grown from strength to strength, from a few nuggets weighing 100 grams in the early years to regular bounties of roughly 15 kilos per year, currently.
We celebrate the truffle harvest each winter with one of our largest events on the calendar – “The Black Tie and Gumboot Truffle Hunt and Dinner” – a 5-course degustation feast featuring freshly harvested truffles and matched wine. Black truffles are used as fresh products available at Borrodell during the truffle season – truffle salt, truffle butter and truffle honey (when available). We are also emerging as a local market for other truffle growers in the area.