KIWI TRUFFIERE READY TO GROW

Grow­ers work on do­mes­tic mar­ket­ing

NZ Grower - - Front Page - Words by Ge­off Lewis Pho­tos Tre­for Ward

To­day and here in Ki­wi­land, Hamil­ton dog trainer Karen Drum­mond was fol­low­ing the nose of her cocker spaniel 'Indy' through a 'truffiere' - a grove of oaks and hazel nut trees cul­ti­vated to pro­duce truf­fles - on a prop­erty owned by Toff and Lau­rie Mylchreest, near Te Awa­mutu.

Karen trains dogs for many pur­poses but in this case runs Truf­fle Dog Ser­vices. With a cou­ple of en­thu­si­as­tic mutts loaded in cages in the back of her ute she tours 14 or­chards in the Waikato and trav­els as far as North­land and Mart­in­bor­ough, help­ing small­time grow­ers lo­cate the lu­cra­tive, but hard to find, fun­gus.

Truf­fles come in sev­eral va­ri­eties the most com­mon be­ing black or Tu­ber melanospo­rum, white Bianchetto (Tu­ber borchii), and Bur­gundy (Tu­ber un­ci­na­tum) and can be used to add spe­cial flavour to dishes and foods in­clud­ing ris­sotto, scram­bled eggs, steak, meringue, ice cream and pesto. The flavour of truf­fles will start to de­te­ri­o­rate af­ter about 10 days but it can be in­fused into things like but­ter, lard, cus­tard base and salt. Truf­fles will in­fuse a bag of raw eggs. Karen, a for­mer chef, is an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the New Zealand Truf­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and for sev­eral months a year brings her dogs out to find the truf­fles of about a dozen grow­ers in the wider Waikato re­gion.

As is the case with other crops nat­u­ral to south­ern Europe, truf­fles do well in poor stoney soils and drier cli­mates. The Waikato, with plenty of mois­ture and soil like choco­late cake is a chal­leng­ing area to grow truf­fles as Toff ex­plained. >

Perig­ord black truf­fles have been grown com­mer­cially in

Europe since the early 1800s, but it was not un­til the 1970s that meth­ods of cul­ti­va­tion were the fo­cus of sci­en­tific im­prove­ment.

“You have to get the PH of the soil right which in­volves the ap­pli­ca­tion of a lot of lime, about 180 tonnes of per acre. For ev­ery tonne of lime you raise the PH 1 point.”

Toff, a local elec­tri­cian, got the idea from neigh­bour­ing Ti­hi­roa lifestyle block owner and truf­fle grower John Treigh, an ar­borist. John had dis­cov­ered that tree mulch was great for grow­ing fungi.

“The first year I gave them away. I took a hand­ful to a chef in Cam­bridge who was very keen. He held a 'de­gus­ta­tion' which in­cludes be­tween five and 10 cour­ses to show how truf­fles are used. Ev­ery­one was blown away.”

Tree va­ri­eties com­monly used for truf­fles are 'in­noc­u­lated' with the fungi be­fore plant­ing out but the lead times be­fore pro­duc­tion can vary from four years to more than a decade.

NZ Truf­fle As­so­ci­a­tion sec­re­tary Fiona John­son said there were about 300 ac­tive truf­fle grow­ers with the largest pro­duc­ing 'Truffieres' in Can­ter­bury with about 50 per­cent of trees in the four largest or­chards and the vast ma­jor­ity on smaller blocks. Most grow­ers are clus­tered in the Bay of Plenty and Can­ter­bury. Black truf­fles pre­fer warmer cli­mates. White truf­fles are more ro­bust and ag­gres­sive. >

The big­gest pro­duc­ers in the world are Spain and more re­cently Aus­tralia where a re­cent boom in truf­fle pro­duc­tion had the ef­fect of halv­ing the value of the pro­duce. John­son said the New Zealand in­dus­try was at that point where vol­ume and re­li­a­bil­ity of qual­ity and prod­uct were key to grow­ing the sec­tor in this coun­try.

“Most of our truffiere are quite young, less than 10 years old. So we should see an in­crease in sup­ply over the next five years. Last year New Zealand grow­ers were get­ting be­tween $3,000 and $3,500 a kilo­gramme for top prod­uct.”

Karen, a for­mer chef, is an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the New Zealand Truf­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and for sev­eral months a year brings her dogs out to find the truf­fles of about a dozen grow­ers in the wider Waikato re­gion.

The NZ Truf­fles As­so­ci­a­tion has been un­der the Hort Ex­port Author­ity and part of the Hort Ex­port Regime for the past few years which sets the stan­dards for ex­port and do­mes­tic prod­uct.

“We in­tro­duced a grad­ing sys­tem this year which de­pends on size and qual­ity. Un­blem­ished black truf­fles are the pre­mium. Truf­fles have no par­tic­u­lar in­sect pests or dis­eases but slugs and worms love them and dam­age from these crea­tures is trimmed off the truf­fle which re­duces value. The low­est grad­ing might only be bits and pieces.”

One of the chal­lenges fac­ing truf­fles in New Zealand is ed­u­cat­ing chefs and restau­rants about their use.

“We are work­ing on a com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy to help in our do­mes­tic mar­ket which will be pre­sented to our mem­bers at our AGM in Au­gust. It is among our pri­or­i­ties which also in­clude mar­ket­ing, re­search and crop main­te­nance for New Zealand con­di­tions.”

The New Zealand Truf­fle As­so­ci­a­tion was es­tab­lished in 1990 to as­sist the de­vel­op­ment of a truf­fle in­dus­try in New Zealand, fos­ter co-op­er­a­tion be­tween New Zealand truf­fle grow­ers and oth­ers in­ter­ested in the in­dus­try and de­velop a uni­fied ap­proach to the mar­ket­ing.

As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Ge­orge Wilkinson said it was dif­fi­cult to know what quan­ti­ties of truf­fles were cur­rently pro­duced in New Zealand, an es­ti­mate was around half a tonne. Aus­tralia, by con­trast, which had started grow­ing af­ter New Zealand, al­ready had a sig­nif­i­cant ex­port in­dus­try. It also has res­i­dent cul­tural pop­u­la­tions which were used to us­ing truf­fles.

“Most of our truffiere are quite young, less than 10 years old. So we should see an in­crease in sup­ply over the next five years. Last year New Zealand grow­ers were get­ting be­tween $3,000 and $3,500 a kilo­gramme for top prod­uct.”

Left: Toff Mylchreest works with Indy and, right, John Cle­ments checks to see what Indy has found un­der a pine tree.

Left Karen Drum­mond gets Indy ready to search for truf­fles. Right: John and Louise Cle­ments with the morn­ing's haul of white truf­fles.

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