MEDIA INFORMATION

 
TRUFFLE INFORMATION FOR THE MEDIA

So, you’re writing about truffles. Thank you on behalf of the Australian Truffle Growers Association (there’s a bit about us on this page).
We realise you are on your usual deadline, so a Google search and cut and paste is your prime research tool. Which is fine if you understand what you’re talking about, but if you haven’t tried eating truffles and have been given wildly different information to make sense of, it is hard.

If that’s you, this page is here to help. We’ve seen lots of stories where we thought we’d shared the right information that gets mangled on publication and laughed at.

You’re welcome to cut and paste and if you can wangle it, a mention of the Australian Truffle Growers Association website is all we’d like in return especially for online stories. While we will occasionally wax lyrical about this product we love, this page is concise as we can make it. There are some expandable sections with links to other material if you need it.

We are acutely aware that information you need is different from someone writing in Europe where truffles have been part of their culture and a seasonal produce for centuries (but even their media get it confused as well.) In Australia where this is a relatively new agricultural crop the first inoculated tree plantings were in 1995 in Tasmania with the first truffles found three to four years later, but it was almost ten years before good commercial quantities were harvested.



TUBER MELANOSPORUM
BLACK TRUFFLE
TUBER AESTIVUM
SUMMER TRUFFLE
TUBER BORCHII
BIANCHETTO
  • Text Hover
  • Text Hover
  • Text Hover
If it is a cold autumn, the black truffle season in Australia can start in late May. They get blacker and more pungent in June but are almost always finished by September. One week you can get them and the next they’ve all gone. Gasp!

It’s seems a bit silly to call this truffle Perigord or French in a country where the consumers don’t know or care that much about identifying it as from France, and it is now cultivated in so many other places. There’s some agitation to just drop that and call our truffles Australian black truffles and fall back to the genus name Tuber melanosporum vitt when entering it on the export documents.  You pronounce melanosporum just as you’d expect,  mellah-no-spore-um. Sounds delicious doesn’t it?

Slightly less favoured for culinary use are Summer truffles Tuber aestivum. It sells for less but is available when the black isn’t. In Europe when it is ripe in late autumn, it’s know as Tuber uncinatum or Burgundy truffle. Then it develops a stronger flavour and is well regarded.

You pronounce aestivum, as  es-STEVE-um and uncinatum  OON-see-nah-tum.  Or UN-see-nah-tum.

Both of the these varieties are the same species. You will start to see these increasingly on the market but it still has to find its own value, usually much less than the black truffle. They are growing in some older truffiéres as an unwanted contaminant before growers had access to DNA testing of their seedlings
Bianchetto – the ‘lesser white’ truffle  Tuber Borchii, has many small plantings but is still to produce commercial quantities. Its commercial value is lower than the large white Magnatum truffle and its aroma is initially more delicate and pleasant, but over time becomes stronger and more garlicky. The harvest period in Australia is after the black truffle season finishes gives it its own space in the market, but one that will require another education process as Australian chef’s and consumers learn to use them.

The name Bianchetto is pronounced BEE-AN-Ketto.  Borchii is pronounced Borky and it is traditionally inoculated on Stone Pine trees. That means if you can beat the cockatoos to them, they will produce high value pine nuts as an extra income for the growers.

  • Text Hover
Facts and figures

Best estimates. Our role as the representative body for the Truffle Industry comes with some special responsibilities to represent small growers who aren’t members for various reasons. So we’ve had to use many different sources to assemble this data every year.In 2020 we estimate we’ll be producing in excess of 20,000 kg in Australia
Say truffière please!

That’s the French name for a place where truffles are grown. It is pronounced TRUE-fee-air. If you can’t find the grave è in Word or the sub-editor scoffs at talking French, it is ok to write it ‘truffiere’ or call it a truffle orchard, or truffle patch. But there’s no such word as ‘truffery’ or ‘trufferie’ in any dictionary.The person who grows them, is in French, a truffier without an accented e, pronounced TRUE-fee-er but we call each other truffle growers.We’d appreciate if you get that right. Thank you.
We're going on a truffle hunt

Even if you can’t get a chance before your deadline, do it sometime anyway, and take your children. This is the best way to learn about how truffles grow, how hard it is to find them, what they smell like (and the soil around them). Many growers use the truffle hunts as an extra income stream and enjoy sharing their knowledge and demonstrating their dog handling skills. They often have a small truffle tasting, and since it’s cold, soup with truffle is popular or bread and truffled brie cheese. Look for growers that keep you in a small group so you can ask questions, get down and smell, and some even let you help dig out a truffle. Usually they have enough that they can sell you a truffle or truffle pieces, or even truffle products such as truffle infused eggs to take home.

More information please?

See the boxes below which explain that Truffle Oil has nothing to do with Truffles, some growing background details, and some information about 'host trees'.

We are an organisation run by volunteers and it sometimes takes us time to answer you. If we’ve really left something out of this and our website, our media communications person is paid (not much) to respond but he/she will try to avoid tyre-kickers and non-media people that want to grow truffles in tubs, greenhouses, under the oak trees in your street, in tropical climates or help you identify the ‘truffles’ you found in the garden/bush/paddock. How many times have we heard ‘It’s absolutely a white truffle, the cook at the servo take-away said it was’.

Just use our contact page form (to avoid the spam).And if you have suggestions about how this Media page could be clearer or more helpful, we’d appreciate your feedback.

Further information

If you've some time to be thorough click on the tabs below

THE TASTE TEST


The taste test and synthetic ‘truffle oil’

You’ll most likely meet our fresh black truffles when dining so what do they taste like? Well, they retain some of their earthy origins. When freshly dug up some people smell that element like in beetroot. There’s certainly mushroom overtones but truffles are unique. Sex and old socks was the classic description which we guess is a mix of pheremones that make female pigs attracted to them (and easy to train finding them) and the sweaty socks which is that earthiness. It doesn’t help much because you can’t compare it to just one thing. Some truffles have a kerosene nose that chefs like, others hate. Sexy? Yes and they were even considered an aphrodisiac.

We can define exactly what the mix of chemicals is that give them their odour and one of them can be manufactured synthetically, a thioether called (2,4-dithiapentane). Manufactured cheaply in bulk it is then added to an oil, like grape seed or mild olive oil and sold as ‘genuine’ truffle oil at an exorbitant mark-up. Sometimes they throw in a bit of sterilised truffle so the label can claim it contains ‘genuine black or white truffle’. If the label says ‘contains aroma’ you know it has the chemical in it. While it is a strong flavour when used in cooking, it has nothing to do with the multi-layered complexity that a real truffle brings to a dish. Some people are even allergic to it.

And it doesn’t have the major attraction of all the truffles in containing glutamates, the natural flavour enhancers that appear in garlic, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, potatoes and mushrooms.

Truffle has a natural affinity with fats, so milk, butter, cream and eggs carry it’s flavours and odours  (which is a big part of what we call taste). If it is used shaved in slices or grated over a warm dish such as pasta or risotto, the heat releases that unique smell and prepares you for eating it. White truffle is considered so refined that the idea of cooking it and driving off the scent means it is almost always shaved at the table, or made into a fresh paste.

Black truffle is a little more robust and can be blended with foie gras and cream to make the classic Perigord Sauce, it can be inserted under the skin of chicken before baking in a dish called ‘widow’s chicken’. But just shaving or grating on top of dishes as diverse as pizza and salad also see it shine.

How much should you use? Unfortunately lots of people go away from a first truffle meal with a ho-um feeling. The restaurant has to use enough so that you know you’ve enjoyed truffle while keeping an eye on their budget. We think an entree should have about 5 grams per serve (at $2 a gram that’s adding $10 to the dish without markup) and up to 10 grams for a large main course. Dishes such as truffled ice-cream need to use as much as the mixture requires but as it is usually (stored with) infused  into the eggs or cream for a few days before, they have their flavour and truffle to shave as well.

Once you get the taste, it is a seasonal addiction and you bemoan that you didn’t have one more truffle dish before they were gone

HOW ARE THEY GROWN

The biggest difference between farming truffles in the the Mediterranean truffle regions and here in Australia is the soil. In Europe the soils are often built on a limestone base and weathering has meant that the pH of the soil is highly alkaline. ( pH is the measurement of whether something is acid or alkaline, eg. lemon juice has a pH of  2.0, milk sits about 6.6, pure water is 7.0, and baking soda is 8.30). The structure is usually coarser without a lot of clay. Sandy loam is ideal.

Australian soils are also very old geologically but over half our usable soil area is less than or equal to pH 5.5, which is below the optimal level to grow most crops as it makes most of the soil nutrients inaccessible to plant roots. So we have to raise the pH by adding lime before we can grow truffles. This needs to be done a year or two before planting out the inoculated seedlings and involves ripping the paddocks and spreading tons of lime. Then digging it in.

We think that our success in truffle growing has a lot to do with how adding that lime to the soil kills off any existing or competing mycorrhizas, the fungal threads that spread through all soils. The problem is then to restore the soil to be friable and healthy and a place an earth worm can call home.

The small seedlings are planted out from their soil tubes like most tree seedlings, then the care is much the same as any other orchard as they grow. Weed control, watering and some pruning is needed to control their shape and low branches. While we are caring for the tree above ground, the roots are preparing for truffles.

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP

Truffles need a host tree. Because they grow underground they do not have access to sunlight to photo-synthesise sugars. So they grow in association with fine tree roots that they can draw sugars from and their even finer roots can share some of the mineral nutrients that the tree wants. Or at least that’s what seems to happen and we’d accepted as the process. We now think that the truffle isn’t playing as nicely and is perhaps more parasitic and controlling the exchange. The experiments are ongoing. We know that the truffles don’t want anything on the surface such as grasses that will compete for the transfer of moisture, so they create what is called a brulée, a dead patch of grass around the trunk, ( ‘burnt’ as in your Crème brûlée). It’s a welcome sign to a grower that there are truffles underground but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll find them. That seems to require a complex interaction of mating types in the truffle nodules on the roots and the ‘mycelium‘ in the soil, and now that we have ways to measure that and the DNA of the truffle varieties, it is becoming a much more scientific approach to truffle farming. Watch this space.

There are many tree varieties that can host truffles in their roots. The main choices in Australia are hazelnuts and oaks of two different varieties. There is an evergreen oak called the Holly or Holm oak Quercus ilex, and the deciduous English Oak Quercus robur.  They have been historically used for propagation here because they were available, often in the local churchyard or as street trees. You will sometimes see these mixed with Hazelnuts Corylus avellana which also lose their leaves in winter.

Please also visit the following pages for more detailed information on Truffles