March 2014

Many farming enterprises combine science, patience, weather, soils, investment, disappointments, serendipity and more patience.  Nothing could be truer of the fledgling Australian truffle industry.  This was particularly evident to WOF members in their March visit to the tree nursery and ‘truffiere’ (truffle orchard) of the Carter family in Gembrook.

Colin and Jan Carter,  with their children and  truffle sniffing kelpie, Jack, taught us a great deal about the complexities of truffle production.  WOF members have previously visited another truffiere, at the home of a member at Jindivick.  It was no surprise to hear that truffle growers, with so many challenges to face, work  co-operatively.  Not only do they share  learnings but they present a united force to  government. This  can assist with research and development, as well as with export facilitation.  Colin explained that the contaminant risks presented by imported truffles, especially from China, were recently recognised by the Federal government, resulting in a quarantine ban on this imported competitor.

‘Black diamonds from the soil and with a fruity fragrance’ – that is how the truffles were described.  Actually,  truffles are the edible fruiting bodies of a type of subterranean fungus known as a mycorrhiza (‘root fungus’), which form symbiotic relationships with a host tree, generally from the oak and hazelnut species.  Colin had many such technical facts to share.

With  the family business including a hazelnut propagation nursery, the potential truffle trees are inoculated with the truffle spore very early in life.  The trees can then be DNA tested to confirm the vital component exists.

In their being planted out, the ideal soil is very well limed, not overly rich, and on a well drained site. The truffle industry is slowly growing in Australia, coming originally in the 1990s from Europe from poor limestone slopes in France.

Despite all the science, research and care with propagating the right trees, it is apparent there are still luck, mystery and chance.  Whatever the success rate that an inoculated tree might foster truffles among its roots, the market demand from Australia and Asia exists.  It is up to truffle sniffing dogs like Jack, to find those black diamonds and to reward the work of committed growers like the Carters.
An opportunity was had to see, smell and taste black truffle, with its mushroom character. Jan gave ideas about the culinary use of truffles and how they can enhance otherwise bland recipes.  Rice, pasta and egg dishes get the ‘wow’ factor.

Women of all ages are welcome to join Women on Farms. The key criterion is an interest in farming and farming women. There is no need to be actively farming to participate.  For more details contact secretary, Jean Irvine, ph.56221236 or go to our website at www.womenonfarms.org for the monthly program.

For enquiries about this article, contact: Mary Hughes, Ph. 03 5628 4195.