I have wanted to go on a truffle hunt for years. I didn’t know much about truffles before moving to Canberra, but their heady scent soon pulled me in. I am now incredibly proud of the Canberra region truffle industry. Not much is known about growing truffles, but it seems they like our hot summers and cold, frosty winters. The truffle is a fungus that grows in a symbiotic relationship on the roots of hazelnut and oak trees. In Europe, people train pigs to sniff them out wild truffles beneath the forest floor. But in Australia most truffle growers use dogs to sniff out the black treasures.
At Turalla Truffles, Damian Robinson has trained his Jack Russell, Three Spot. I have to say, truffle dogs are a large part of what attracted me to a truffle hunt. What’s not to love about spending a day outdoors amoung the trees with a clever pooch, getting your hands dirty digging up the most valuable culinary ingredient available!? Well each year, as part of the Canberra and Capital Region Truffle Festival, you can visit a local truffiere to join the hunt. This year, I was blessed to be given a complimentary ticket. It was a bitingly cold morning when we gathered at the farm gate. Damian and his family met us and we piled into a few four wheel drives to head to the truffiere. The Robinsons also farm Angus cattle on their property near Bungendore in New South Wales. The truffiere are situated amid the cow paddocks, securely fenced off, and looking beautiful with their perfect rows of truffle trees. We bleach our boots on the way in, so as not to bring any contaminating fungi. It is wonderful to see the truffle dogs work the rows of trees, smelling for black gold. When they smell truffle, they mark the place under the tree with a paw. Damian will dig at the earth with his hands, smelling the dirt for the distinct truffle fragrance, judging exactly where the truffle is, if it’s ripe, or if it’s over-ripe. I was fascinated by how much the truffle fragrance permeates the earth surrounding the fungus. When the truffle is out, the dogs will be given a food reward for their good work. At the end of the hunt, Damian brings out his famous truffle vodka for us to sample. I can highly recommend it. We also get samples of truffle butter on bread, truffled brie and a truffle infused local Shingle Hill Estate olive oil. My favourites are the vodka and butter. The vodka brings out a very pure truffle flavour, and the butter brings out the earthy richness of the truffle.