Growing truffles in Australia
Colin Carter, Director, Trufficulture
Truffle farming is only a relatively young industry in Australia, having commenced about 25 years ago. The early plantings were in Tasmania and Western Australia with the first truffle harvested in 1999.
Truffles are now grown in all Australian states, including Southern Queensland and the ACT. The industry has had a spectacular rise in success with year-on-year increasing yields as the trees mature.
“Truffles” are the fungal fruiting body of a specialised fungus known as a mycorrhiza. This mycorrhiza becomes colonised on the roots of certain host trees (mainly oaks, hazelnuts, and stone pines). The fungus and roots live in a symbiotic relationship where the fungus uses the trees resources created by photosynthesis (carbohydrates and sugars, etc) and tree receives solubilised nutrients like phosphate from the fungus.
So, the tree and the fungus are in a mutually beneficial partnership. Once a year in winter (subject to the right growing conditions) truffles are ripe with intense aroma and ready to be harvested. Dogs are used to detect and mark the ripe truffles and are truly the truffle farmer’s best friend.
Truffles need to grow in calcareous soil (soil pH above 7.5) The soil needs to be well drained, so sloping sites are beneficial. Truffle trees need a sunny aspect to assist truffles ripening in winter. The ideal climate is a cool winter and truffles tolerate a warm to hot summer.
The most important and culinary significant truffle is the French black truffle – formally known as the Perigord black (Tuber melanosporum). More than 95% of truffle trees planted in Australia are this truffle.
Recently we are seeing interest in the bianchetto white truffle (Tuber borchii). It is native of Italy, but it is not the famous Italian white truffle (Tuber magnatum), which cannot be produced in Australia.
In Italy the bianchetto (“little bit like white”) is confused in the marketplace because the two truffles can have similar look, feel, aroma and flavour.
In Australia, there is a lot of culinary interest in white truffles. We cannot grow the Italian white, so it needs to be imported and is extremely expensive and exclusive. However, we can grow the bianchetto.
Truffles are graded on quality, so freshness and aroma are paramount. It is true that fresh locally-grown truffles do get a price premium, but they also provide the consumer with an exquisite experience. Most growers need to move product through a wholesaler. There are several established wholesalers that supply restaurants across Australia as well export.
As production increases it is inevitable that new entrant growers expect to have their product exported. It has been established through government-driven research that export opportunity for truffles (Asia, USA and Europe) is insatiable.
Oak – especially the French or holly oak (Quercus ilex) is the main host tree used across the industry. English oak (Quercus robur) is also used. There is renewed attention in growing hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) as hazelnuts are also a host tree of truffle. So, there is growing interest in using inoculated hazelnuts to get a dual crop potential.
TruffiCulture is the major truffle tree supplier across Australia. We are a family business with nurseries based in Victoria and Western Australia.
Generally, truffle growers would place pre-orders for trees at least 6–12 months prior to planting, which allows sufficient time to get the soil preparation activities completed.
Learning about truffles
Cultivating truffles successfully requires a level of understanding that is difficult to achieve with just a Google search. In fact, there's stacks of info on the web but most of it is old and now largely discounted due to the latest research and scientific findings.
Also, we get lots of calls from people wanting to learn more about truffles and how to get started. So, to manage the interest and provide a solid up-to-date educational platform we developed the seminar program and two in-depth ebooks.
Interested or potential growers would be encouraged to attend one of our grower seminars to learn more and see if truffle growing is right for you. COVIDSafe measures are in place with reduced participant numbers, social distancing and hand sanitisers provided, etc.
For more information on truffles or seminars please visit https://trufficulture.com.au/
Source: Australian Tree Crop