It’s time to make the most of our truf­fles

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASTE - Graeme Phillips

AF­TER years of ridicule and re­search, Dun­can Garvey and Peter Cooper un­earthed Aus­tralia’s first black truf­fle, tu­ber melanospo­rum, in a mixed grove of in­oc­u­lated oak and hazel trees near Delo­raine in July 1999.

Fif­teen years later, Aus­tralia is the world’s fourth- largest truf­fle- pro­duc­ing coun­try with more than 150 grow­ers and more than 600ha of ded­i­cated oaks and hazels.

Tas­ma­nia still leads the way with 25 grow­ers and 200ha of truf­feries, fol­lowed by – ac­cord­ing to 2010 fig­ures – NSW ( 70 grow­ers, 150ha), Vic­to­ria ( 35 and 120ha), WA ( 15 and 120ha), ACT ( two and 7ha), SA ( two and 5ha) and Queens­land ( two and 5ha).

Those knock­ers who in the early years dis­missed truf­fles as just another of those agri­cul­tural get- rich- quick schemes have been well and truly put in their place.

As have the so- called agri­cul­tural ex­perts who dis­missed the ideas of Garvey and Cooper as a pipe dream.

There is now an Aus­tralian Truf­fle Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which will hold its sec­ond an­nual gen­eral meet­ing and na­tional con­fer­ence in Launce­s­ton on Septem­ber 27 and 28, next with an ex­ten­sive pro­gram of work­shops, farm vis­its and re­search pa­pers by sev­eral in­vited in­ter­na­tional ex­perts. Full de­tails are avail­able at truf­fle­grow­ers.com.au

De­spite the as­so­ci­a­tion’s twin aims of “build­ing an in­dus­try” and “build­ing a brand”, there are still quite a num­ber of cow­boys around with qual­ity and stan­dards of the cur­rent sea­son’s truf­fles all over the place and be­ing of­fered at prices con­fus­ingly run­ning any­where from $ 1200 to $ 3000 a kilo­gram.

Re­cent re­search by Roy Mor­gan has also re­vealed while many have heard about truf­fles, most aren’t fa­mil­iar with their flavour and uses.

Based on two dis­ap­point­ing and out­right de­cep­tive dining ex­pe­ri­ences in Can­berra a few weeks ago, the same could be said of Can­berra chefs – at least some of them.

Com­mer­cial truf­fle oils – those prod­ucts of the lab­o­ra­tory, not of na­ture – have a lot to an­swer for, as do chefs who mis­han­dle the real prod­uct.

Which is why truf­fle fes­ti­vals such as Mun­dar­ing/ Curtin in Western Aus­tralia, Truf­fle Mel­bourne and the month- long Can­berra and Re­gion Truf­fle Fes­ti­val have im­por­tant and on­go­ing roles to play in ed­u­cat­ing both the pub­lic and those in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

But ap­par­ently we don’t need ed­u­cat­ing here in Tas­ma­nia and, af­ter a flurry of pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties and din­ners in the early years, most of our pro­duc­ers seem con­tent to leave it to a few low- key stalls at farm­ers’ mar­kets and some of the bet­ter delis to do their pro­mo­tional and ed­u­ca­tional work for them.

Even our restau­rants don’t seem to get ex­cited any more about what should be one of the state’s truly iconic sea­sonal prod­ucts, one that would fit per­fectly into Tas­ma­nia’s new­found con­fi­dence in our win­ter attractions.

This per­haps ex­plains why 90 per cent of Garvey’s on­line sales are made di­rectly to pri­vate house­holds rather than restau­rants, as it used to be.

And it might also help ex­plain why Tas­ma­nia, where it all started, has been well and truly gazumped and out- mar­keted by Western Aus­tralia, where their truf­fle fes­ti­val is said to at­tract crowds of up to 50,000 peo­ple and, in 2012, was judged one of the top five truf­fle fes­ti­vals in the world.

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