J surprised me with tickets to a black truffle hunt with Blue Frog Truffles in Sutton, NSW, which we attended about a fortnight ago. It was my first ever truffle hunt and I was very excited! We rugged up against the cold winter morning and wore sturdy shoes. The owner, Wayne Haslam, arrived in a golf cart to greet us. There were about 25 people on the truffle hunt that morning and we were split into two groups. Before we could step into the working farm, we had to step into a tray of bleach mix so that we didn’t accidentally bring anything in with us to contaminate the trees.
Wayne took us through how he first started in the truffle business and how he grew black truffles. There were 1,800 truffle trees on the farm. The first 900 were planted up on a risen part of the farm using the French method of planting a line of three hazelnut trees between a single oak tree parallel to all the truffle trees. Wayne mentioned the hazelnuts seemed to distract the dogs so he decided to test out another 900 trees on a lower valley area with only oak trees which seems to be working well. The irrigation was set up so that the water sprayed each tree and a good couple of metres around the tree, allowing the roots to spread and grow towards the surface of the ground rather than straight down. This meant the roots would develop very close to the surface and hence the truffles would be easy to dig up. Wayne likes to use the good old spoon to dig up the truffles since they were quite close to the surface.
The truffles we dug up that day ranged from about 40g to 100g. It was interesting to hear that restaurants prefer the smaller sized truffles as the presentation and theatrics when shaving truffles works better.
The two groups then swapped truffle guides, and we were introduced to two truffle hunting dogs – Leroy and Ruby, who are both contracted from Southern Tablelands Truffle Dogs that’s run by a husband and wife team. I believe the dogs and their handlers are brought on twice a week during truffle season to sniff out any truffles. Ruby was still in training and learning the ropes from Leroy.
Both dogs were very much food-oriented. Finding a truffle gets them a regular doggie treat, however the truffle may still be maturing (whereby the top of the truffle is sliced off to confirm this and put back into the ground to mature) or could be rotten in which case it is used to fertilise the next year’s crop.
Finding a ripe, ready and high-grade truffle gets the dogs a yummier treat (that day it was pasta). Once the dogs find the scent of truffle, they lie down near the tree indicating that there is something there.
Wayne’s son, Justin Haslam, and one of the handlers get down to the ground, scoop up the dirt to dig for the truffle while also sniffing the dirt for truffles. It was amazing how well-trained the men’s noses were, as well as the dogs! While the dogs found the truffles, it was up to the men to dig it up, determine whether it was mature, rotten or if there were more hiding in that spot by following the roots.
A short video of Leroy in action below.
And another shot of one of the truffles found that day.
After the hunt, we went inside the house to warm up with soup. Potato and leek, and mushroom soup were on offer with a few shavings of truffle on top. There were also truffle-infused cheeses and crackers and truffle macadamia nuts.
Wayne scrubbed and cleaned the truffles to prepare them for selling. The majority of people in our group bought a few grams of truffle (about $2.50 per gram). It was kind of wasted on me since I really don’t know what to do with them nor do I have any motivation to cook with them. Wayne suggested putting some truffle with eggs in a jar which lets the egg become infused with that wonderful truffle aroma to get poached truffle eggs!
We all received a scoop of truffle ice cream which was creamy and trufflicious.
It’s very much a family business with Wayne’s son Justin and his wife now the property managers of Blue Frog Truffles, who run truffle hunts during the week. Wayne’s nieces help out with the soup and food. It was a lovely morning for a truffle hunt and so very informative. If you want to learn more about truffles and buy some straight from the ground, it would be worth booking in a hunt. I know Blue Frog’s Sunday hunts are booked out but there were a few Wednesday hunts available the last time I checked.
A few facts
- Wayne started the Truffle Growers Association in 2003 which is now Australia-wide. He also started the Truffle Festival where everyone could get involved – farms and restaurants, to partake in truffle season.
- Australia has the fourth biggest producer of black truffles in the world with Spain, France and Italy being the biggest producers. South Africa and Israel are now also starting to grow truffles.
- We were told that there were about 1,500 varieties of truffle (with 300 varieties in Canberra). Although the majority were not of great value or aroma, they were needed as part of the food chain cycle.
- A list of other truffle farms that offer hunts can be found on the Truffle Festival website.
Blue Frog Truffles are located at 63 Goolabri Drive, Sutton, NSW. It was only a 23 minute drive from Kingston.
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