Black harvest: a taste for truffles
Victoria’s black truffle trade is booming, but it takes teamwork to sniff out these earth-bound morsels.
Thomas isn’t like other dogs. When Jenny McAuley met him in Tasmania he was quieter than the other truffle hunters, all trained to uncover black gold beneath cool soil. She was drawn to the English springer spaniel with his white snout and empathetic eyes. When she dropped Thomas back at his enclosure after a trip to the beach, he threw himself against the door until it burst open, and chased after his new business partner.
The two have been working together for three years at Red Hill Truffles on the Mornington Peninsula. Inspired by a trip to Tuscany, Jenny planted the first of her 2700 trees in 2005. Five years later, she had her first harvest – a single truffle – and last season was the first time she came close to breaking even. “You don’t really get a full crop until 10 to 12 years so you have to be very patient,” she says.
Growing truffles is a long process: most growers buy hazelnut or oak trees inoculated with the French black truffle from certified growers; the soil must be prepared with lime to achieve a pH of 8; an irrigation system needs to be installed and the trees must be planted and pruned.