Last of black truffles ends golden season

ONE of the last boxes of perigord black truffles earmarked for Hong Kong was rushed to Launceston Airport on Monday just hours after being dug out of the ground at Tamar Valley Truffles, Riverside.

Farm manager Marcus Jessup said the roughly 12-week long season is coming to a close and the truffles are now a little deeper and smaller but not to the extent that he would usually expect. “It’s been a great season for us with consistently good-sized truffles being produced, up to 600g, which is bigger than recent years,” he said. “Not only did we get a hot summer and warm autumn and therefore a longer growing season but for some reason the bugs that tend to put holes in the truffles have stayed away – perhaps the heat helped with that too.”

As someone who is quick to admit there’s no exact science to growing truffles and their mystery and allure is just as strong as their earthy aroma, Marcus is always relieved when he sees the first signs of fungi pushing up out of the earth around February. “That means we can start filling orders from around June when the aroma develops, with our harvester Stevie and his dog Dash sniffing them out so they can be posted to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney as well as supplying the local market,” he said. “With plenty of truffles available nationwide this season and our main overseas markets like Japan and Hong Kong a bit slow with Covid, it’s not been an easy sell, so we’ve frozen more for use in our speciality products such as truffle salt, truffled mushroom paste and truffled cheese.

“During the pandemic, online sales have grown significantly, particularly the dairy products, and that’s been great for us,” Marcus said.

Australia’s biggest truffle farms are in Western Australia and when they’re in full harvesting mode and producing large quantities it puts pressure on truffle prices across the country. However, the WA season is earlier than Tasmania so it’s now, at the tail end, when Tasmanian trufferies make their money due to less supply and greater demand.

In Tasmania the four main players are all in the north of the state and Marcus hopes the day will come when a wholesaler will become involved in the buying and sale of all Australian truffles so that it’s not a case of “every man for himself”. “This industry is still growing, with more truffle farms coming on line in places like Winkleigh, Pipers Brook and Mole Creek, so a united approach seems like a good idea to me.”

At recent meetings with the Australian Truffle Growers Association and no doubt at the annual conference coming up soon, this is expected to be discussed along with better ways to market Australian truffles to the world. “We have to be careful that the quality and standard is maintained going forward and that inferior truffles don’t slip through,” Marcus said.

“Tasmanian truffles have the best aroma, we’ve been repeatedly told, so it’s an industry that needs to be nurtured well into the future.”