A time for reflection
I have been associated with the truffle industry in Australia and overseas since the mid ‘90s. I’ve seen the industry, domestic and international, from all angles, and whilst there are lots of great aspects, there is a darker side which brings into question the integrity of the European industry, and has the potential to sully the reputation of our fledgling industry. It is a combination of a lack of basic understanding of truffles, the mistaken misrepresentation of product, and deliberate falsification of product for commercial gain. The problem applies variously to all industry players, i.e. nurserymen, growers, chefs, restaurateurs, chefs, and journalists.
As I have alluded, poor understanding and misrepresentation, is widespread in the market place, and is compounding as the science of truffles grows at an exponential rate. Very few people associated with the industry have a robust understanding of the biology and taxonomy of this incredible and precious genus. To counter this situation, the challenge for all associated with the industry is to recognise and admit their lack of knowledge, ‘get informed’ and ask the right questions. Either way, the knowledge gap provides a fertile patch for misinformation on truffles to flourish, especially when it is fertilised by a bit of bull dust.
So why am I moved to write this op-ed? Because I’m frustrated by the ill-informed and sometimes malicious commentary regarding the comparative worth and/or culinary value of different truffle species that are grown in Australia. Tuber melanosporum, T. aestivum, T. brumale, T. borchii as commercial species are all established in Australia. Although T. brumale like T. maculatum, T. dryophilum, and T. puberulum are believed to have been accidentally introduced. It is apparent that all species found in Australia are found in New Zealand.
Globally, indisputably T. melanosporum and T. magnatum are recognised as the acme of blackish and whitish truffles, and attract high prices because of it. As a consequence of their reputation, these species are often faked, through substitution with lesser value truffle species and/or the common use (in restaurants and in truffle products) of synthetic aroma to boost the taste experience of diners with lesser grade examples of these species. Tuber magnatum (white Piedmont truffle) has not been successfully grown in truffle orchards here or elsewhere in the world, and is only harvested from the wild forests of Europe. Any claims to growing T. magnatum in a truffière should be received with a very healthy dose of scepticism.
Substitution with similar looking truffle species is common in the market place and often results in diners, without the experience, or knowledge, to discriminate the species or quality of what is on their plate, being disappointed with their truffle experience. Regrettably that substitution also manifests in nurseries that provide inoculated trees to would-be growers. The substitution may be a deliberate cost saving strategy, but more likely due to a lack of scientific knowledge and essential biosecurity. Disappointingly few new entrants to the industry avail themselves of DNA analysis to confirm the species truffle with which host tree seedlings have been inoculated.
As a result, T. brumale is now widely spread and has been found in all the established truffle growing regions in Australia, even Western Australia. Whilst this may not be the preferred situation, if all quarters of the industry clearly identify T. brumale, rather than hide it, this species of truffle has a place in the market place. The same applies to other species of blackish truffles, including T. indicum (a prohibited species in Australia) which if, incidentally, is allowed to ripen in the forest is a good eating truffle.
The United Nations Standards for truffles (2016) provides a grading assessment that applies to fresh specimens of the “ascocarps (fruiting bodies) of truffles of species of the genus Tuber…”. By way of example, it mentions T. melanosporum, T. magnatum, T. borchii, T. aestivum, T. brumale, T. uncinatum, T. mesentericum, T. macrosporum, T. gibbosum. The Standards also provide examples of common names of the afore-mentioned species. The purpose of the standards is to offer a standardised approach to assessing and reporting the quality of fresh truffles, of any species (of the genus Tuber). The Standards, as they stand, do not purport to be a definitive guide to common names, a list of species that could, or should be commercialised, or importantly, an up-to date taxonomic listing. Adherence to the Standards is meaningless unless truffle sellers are honest about the species represented.
To use common or scientific names
To be sure of referring to a truffle correctly and minimising the chance of confusion, it is important to use its current scientific name and, for ease of customer understanding, include the common name. For example, Tuber melanosporum, Périgord black truffle. (To be really exact note the italics and capitals.)
Also be aware that taxonomic descriptions can and do get updated. For example, T. albidum, was first coined by Andrea Cesalpino (an Italian physician, philosopher and botanist mycologist) in 1583. There has been ongoing debate as to what species he was referring to, and the name has been variously applied to a range of truffle species. It’s use has now been abandoned in favour of clear differentiation between the whitish truffle species that got caught up under its mantle – those species included T. borchii, T. maculatum, T. puberulum, T. dryophilum and even T. aestivum.
The ongoing, but incorrect, use of the taxonomic name T. albidum, primarily to enable unscrupulous traders to avoid scrutiny of the species they are dealing, has led to clear confusion in the market place. Such that T. maculatum, T. puberulum and T. dryophilum, all species of lesser taste and aroma, are regularly passed off as T. borchii which to the untrained eye is indistinguishable. This issue emanating from Europe, now applies in Australia and New Zealand where all but T. borchii have been introduced as contaminants, very much along the lines of T. brumale. This situation has two major consequences: T. borchii has been denigrated because of the failure to differentiate it from the other species, and without DNA species certification it is not possible to be sure that a batch of newly inoculated trees is not contaminated. Outspoken criticism of T. borchii is unwarranted, ignorant and, in some cases, clearly of malicious intent.
New techniques – new and extended risks
Further to the basic nursery stock contamination story is the imminent distribution of domestic and imported freeze dried truffles for use in Spanish wells or traditional tree inoculation. Investigations into quality control of freeze-dried truffle exporting operations in Europe have demonstrated only reject material emanating from the truffle processing room end up being frozen and packaged. This indicates that reject scraps, diseased truffle specimens, or even contaminating species are likely to be present in the frozen melange. Only the very best of sound truffles, preferably from your own truffière, should be used to boost the soil inoculum in Spanish wells. If a truffle has no commercial value, it should not be turned back into the truffiere. If you are tempted to purchase freeze dried truffle for inoculation purposes don’t depend on what it says on the label, you would be well advised to seek professional advice coupled with an independent DNA analysis of the mix.
I hope these ruminations will improve your understanding of some of the less desirable machinations of the industry and help you cut through some of the nonsense you’ll encounter as the season gets into full swing.
 UNECE STANDARD FFV-53 concerning the marketing and commercial quality control of TRUFFLES (2016 Edition)
I found this interactive temperature map and it prompted a post to direct ATGA members to the GrowWIKI. (Prompt, prompt)
This only uses a selection of Capital Cities but it only takes a small bit of shifting to suggest that Manjimup 34°.24 is almost on the same latitude as Adelaide 34° 92. Concrete and traffic laden cities are different of course to nice green countryside. (Read the background in the box that pops up “What about…” to see the maps modelling). But given another 80 years most of our children will be living in major cities if the trends continue, so this may be just an idea of what your kids summer will be like while they’re waiting for the weekend to get back to that truffle paddock their parents left them.
It’s the winter temperature ranges we’re more sensitive to for truffle growing, we need cold hours to force the ripening and the WIKI has that data.
Below is our ‘ideal’ growing areas overlay-ed in green on an average winter temperature map from the Bureau of Meteorology.
As always, higher altitude changes suitability and coastal areas are often tempered by the sea mass (which means they are subject to oceans warming).
To join this discussion, and for more data, see the GrowWIKI. Choose Site Selection and Average Temperature maps.
Truffle Pest & Disease project – Research extension – Winter 2017
To update Australian truffle producers on progress and future plans within the RIRDC project “Pests and diseases of truffles and their host trees in Australia”.
The road show
Team members of the Pests and Diseases Project will visit regional centres of truffle growing districts across Australia (see proposed itinerary below).
At the talks, there will be hands-on pest collections to demonstrate the array of pests, beneficial and benign agents found in Australian truffle orchards. At these ATGA Member only meetings, you are invited to bring to the samples of any pests/diseases they want to discuss and/or identified (except at Dandenongs and Sutton meetings which will be held on truffières).
Growers will have the opportunity for direct interaction with project team members.
Because the meetings are at the same time of year as truffle harvest and sales, the sessions are proposed to start at 2.00 p.m. and go no longer than 2 hours.
As well as attending these meetings, Stewart Learmonth from WA will be requesting visits to truffle orchards during harvest to further build knowledge of pests.
|Manjimup||23 & 25June||–||X||X||X||–|
*Location: Precise details on the venues will be advised soon.
#People: AD = Alan Davey; SL =Stewart Learmonth; CL = Celeste Linde; AM = Anne Mitchell; AS = Ainsley Seago.
Please bring a thermos to share
Please note, except for the Manjimup meetings, the number of attendees at each meeting will be limited to 20 ATGA Members.
Please be sure to make a reservation:
WESTERN AUSTRALIA COMPLETED
Bookings for the 3-5 pm 23 June seminar at the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA (DAFWA) offices in Manjimup are through Anne Mitchell, via email firstname.lastname@example.org. This event is supported by DAFWA, Truffle Producers WA (TPWA), and Manjimup Underground.
Some of the experts will also be part of the Truffle Growers Forum at the Truffle Kerfuffle 8-11.30am Sunday 25 June. Bookings are via the Truffle Kerfuffle website. This event is supported by DAFWA, the Truffle Kerfuffle Inc., TPWA, and Manjimup Underground.
28527 Southwest Hwy
Manjimup (6kms south of town)
Stewart Learmonth 9777 0000
SOUTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES
Wayne Haslam (Sutton)
Blue Frog Truffle Farm
63 Goolabri Dr, Sutton NSW 2620
RSVP Alan Davey 0407 404 447 or at email@example.com
No pest samples please
NORTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES:
Richard Austen (Bathurst) 0419 868 666
Bathurst Library Meeting Room
70-78 Keppel St, Bathurst. Ph (02) 6333 6281.
RSVP Richard Austen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Colin Carter (Dandenongs) (03) 5968 1092; 0409 717 401
Please ring Colin for address details.
RSVP Colin Carter email@example.com
No pest samples please
Marcus Jessup (Launceston/Deloraine) 0417 112 655
Bush Inn Hotel Restaurant
7 Bass Highway, Deloraine. Ph (03) 6362 2365.
RSVP Marcus Jessup firstname.lastname@example.org
Producing Members’ Workshop:
Grading and Handling Truffle
Monday 12th June, 2015 (Holiday weekend)
10.30 for 11.00 am
Venue: Hartley Truffles, Great Western Highway HARTLEY NSW
Important: We’d like you to bring some of your truffle if you can for grading.
This workshop is sponsored for members, and tea, coffee and light lunch provided.
This workshop will discuss truffle grading and handling aligning grades with the Truffle Grading Standard approved by the Association.
RSVP to Richard Austen email@example.com for directions and more details.
Great Southern Truffles is excited to offer a complete
and Handling service
to ensure your 2017 harvest reaches is full potential.
Searching: Hunting, led by Damon Boorman, one of Australia’s most experienced Truffle Hunters, will provide you with the knowledge to guide you into selecting the ripest of truffles, optimising your truffle harvest.
Grading: Our internationally trained Mycologist, Federico Paci, will work closely with our sales team to grade and present your truffles.
Handling: As one of Australia’s leading distributors worldwide we offer to purchase all grades of truffles, which will guarantee that your truffles can be sold direct to market, for chef’s around the world to enjoy. Our aim is to Minimise your workload, and Maximise your yields which means the world can enjoy more Australian Black Winter Truffles.
To discuss how we can maximise your investment call: Adam Wilson on 0413 626 244 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our website: www.greatsoutherntruffles.com.au
Attention Members! In an effort to promote the benefits of a strong plant biosecurity system, Plant Health Australia is running the Bountiful Harvest photo competition, with two vouchers for the RM Williams store as prizes: $300 to the winner and $150 to the runner up. It’s open to all Australian residents aged 18 or over, and we’re seeking digital images of some aspect of plant production – the crops that produce food and fibre – anywhere in Australia. Entries close 10 March 2017.
You can submit a photo (see terms and conditions here) to be in the running to win.
More information at http://www.planthealthaustralia.com.au/bountiful-harvest-photo-competition/
This week a purveyor of truffles and fine food attempted to import some new season Tuber magnatum of Italian origin into Western Australia, only to be advised their entry was not permitted. The importer remonstrated with the Quarantine Officer that he had been importing T. magnatum into WA and other States for years without problem. The Officer held his ground and produced a copy of the “West Australian Organism List”. This document of the WA Department of Agriculture and Food lists all foods and organisms which can be imported into the State. If it’s not on the list, it can’t be imported unless a special permit which complies with various phytosanitary requirements and provenance is purchased and granted. The only truffle species that can be imported from interstate, or over-seas, without that special permit is Tuber melanosporum. The other States allow a variety of Tuber species including magnatum.
It appears previous imports of T. magnatum may have contravened WA quarantine regulations and WA Quarantine are now strictly observing the rules. So if ATGA Members (or anyone else, for that matter) are thinking of importing T. magnatum into WA for personal or commercial consumption they would be well advised to check out the WA Quarantine website or ring for advice before ordering their truffles.
In the meantime, Members of the TPWA Executive have applied to have T. magnatum and T. borchii included on the WA Organism List. Given these species are allowed into the other States it is expected that the updating of the list will be a minor formality that should be executed presently.
In his summary in the Sunday afternoon session our ATGA President Peter Stahle reviewed what he had chosen as the highlights from the presentations on the weeekend. These were what he considered are going to become significant industry issues requiring forward planning, collaboration and especially research. There will be a full video report of Peter’s talk with all the speaker presentations in our Members area, but this will give you a good overview of what we covered in Manjimup.
If you were there you may have some further comments we’d love to hear, just add them below. If you couldn’t attend we’d still like to get your feedback (although you might like to wait for the full versions.
Gavin Booth – A dose of reality
To ‘future-proof’ the industry, Australian truffle growers need to be self-sufficient organizationally and financially. There are challenges on both these counts. This season, Australia-wide, without engaging economic multipliers, at the farm gate we are an $8m industry (≈12.5 tonne harvest weight, ≈8.75 tonne saleable product, average farm gate price 75¢ – $1.00 /gm.). This doesn’t allow much room for investment in research and development in production methodology or marketing. To really make a difference, we have to find ways of leveraging our limited funds.
Vittorio Giordano – International Trade
Urbani Truffles is the largest purveyor of fresh truffles and truffle products in the world, and since 1852 this family-run company has developed markets and exports to 68 countries. The company has invested heavily in marketing truffles globally, in particular in the US where only 5 years ago 50% of Americans thought truffles were chocolates. The company recognizes the ongoing need for the industry to globally promote truffles and educate consumers, and the Australian industry has an important collaborative role to play in this. The Australian industry needs to be aware of how its marketing and pricing in overseas markets has the potential to effectively commodify this elite and special product. Now as a major producer, the Australian industry needs to be aware of the global context and impact of its sales. Australia is not a competitor to other truffle producing countries and needs to be aware of shared interest in promoting the sale and consumption of truffles globally.
Celeste Linde – Update on truffle science
Celeste gave an overview of changes and updates in the Australian truffle industry, from the perspective of a professional mycologist passionately engaged in the development of the Australian industry and providing scientific and technical advice. Her observations include:
Tuber maculatum is becoming more common in truffières in both Australia and New Zealand where it has been known as an ectomycorrhizal associate of several species of European trees since the 1960s. More recently it has been most likely spread as a contaminant of mycorrhized tree sales. All tree samples sent to the Linde Laboratory are assessed for T. maculatum and other common undesirable fungal species.
Tuber brumale is now recognized as two biotypes emanating from Eastern and Western Europe. T. brumale introduced deliberately and accidentally into Australia and New Zealand is of the Eastern European biotype.
Celeste is collaborating with French mycologists to further the understanding of maternal and paternal genotypes of Tuber melanosporum and their impact on truffle production. T. melanosporum exhibits heterothallism whereby female elements (ascogonia) become truffles and male elements (conidia) produce sexual spores of hyphae.
Understanding the sex life of truffles is fundamental to understanding truffle production and it is further complicated by some truffle “plants” being hermaphroditic (♂ & ♀), some dioecious (either ♂ or ♀), and some trioecious (♂ & ♀, and ♂ or ♀).
Stuart Dunbar – The Dunbar truffle
Stuart proudly presented the background story and images of the world’s largest T. melanosporum harvested from his Gembrook property. The truffle, now reverently referred to as “The Dunbar”, will henceforth lend its name as a descriptor of extraordinarily large truffles. (the joke was the new grading standards now include ‘Dunbar’ between Premium and Extra class).
Victoria Taylor, John Harvey and Ingrid Smith – Realities and future proofing the industry
Discussions ranged around the various state and federal government grant schemes that are available to agricultural commodities, such as truffles, to support R&D. The truffle industry has been supported by Rural industries Research and Development Corporation, since its inception in the 1990s. The industry is on notice though, that RIRDC is looking to wind up its generous support by 2019 when the 5-year truffle industry R&D strategic plan will sunset. In the meantime there are state government initiatives, such as WA’s Agriculture Produce Commission, which can raise funds for the industry through a “Fee for Service” mechanism and administered by a Producer Committee. Ultimately, the truffle industry will need to raise a levy from producers to fund R&D. This levy could be administered by RIRDC, which would obviate the need for the creation of a “Truffle Industry Research and Development Corporation”. The levy will need to operate under 11 principles, which include: demonstrated need, market failure, majority industry support and public good. The industry is encouraged to start planning for a levy now, since even with the best intent a levy can take several years to put in place.
Rohan Prince – Latest irrigation studies
Rohan is from the Department of Agriculture WA and presented a comprehensive overview of the role of irrigation in managing a truffiere. He also elaborated on the various soil moisture variables and the equipment that can be used to monitor them. As yet a causal relationship between soil moisture and truffle production has not been established. This is a topic worthy of industry investment in the future.
Jan de Jager – Using fertilizers
Jan highlighted the complexity and importance of soil ecology in achieving ideal growing conditions for any crop, including truffles and their host trees. To maximize production of truffles there are many soil variables that need to be taken into account, many of which can be simply adjusted/improved through the addition of mineral supplements. Jan threw down the gauntlet to the industry to back research into the use of organic fertilizers to improve soil conditions.
Stuart Learmonth and Anne Mitchell – Pest and Diseases
Stuart provided an update on the Pests and Diseases project that is being conducted nationally. The project is essentially being run in 3 parts: a survey of growers, “My Pest Guide” reporting and technical information transfer. The Research Team led by Stuart and Anne is consolidating and interpreting information gained directly from growers. A comprehensive update on the research can be found at the ATGA website.
George Wilkinson – New Zealand’s 2016 season
George presented an update on the 2016 season in New Zealand where the aggregate harvest (all species) is estimated to be 0.5 tonne. T. brumale production exceeds T. melanosporum. The New Zealand industry is keen to emulate the Australian promotion of truffles through festivals held in the major cities.
Fred Harden – GROWwiki
Fred, the ATGA Webmaster, is developing a comprehensive growers’ guide for T. melanosporum. Fred demonstrated the interactive graphics and information access that will be a feature of the website, which will be based on a Wiki platform to facilitate regular updates. Components of the guide are now live and can be accessed through the ATGA website. Sign up to add material, comment and help build a definitive guide. The website is available via the Members Area menu or direct at grow.trufflegrowers.com.au
Reports on the other speakers, the Workshops and Field trips will all be online soon with the full conference report.
- May 2018 newsletter
- A time for reflection
- How hot?
- 2017 ATGA Members Pests and Diseases Roadshow
- June Newsletter online
- NSW ATGA Members Grading workshop
- Great Southern Truffles Services for 2017
- Plant Health Australia Photo Competition
- Shock for importer of Tuber magnatum into Western Australia.
- Conference highlights – a captain’s pick