It’s time to make the most of our truffles
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.