They may retail at $3000 a kilogram but truffles don’t actually grow on trees, rather, they grow on tree roots underground.
At Tambo Upper, a variety of factors including a trip to New Zealand, a rescue dog and a penchant for the unusual, have come together to form a working truffière that has produced its first crop this year.
Truffière is the term for a truffle tree orchard where the truffle, a kind of underground mushroom,(more officially known as a subterranean fungus) grows on the roots of specific trees, mainly oak.
The Tambo Upper truffière includes the evergreen Holm or French oak and the deciduous English oak, as well as hazelnut trees.
Before planting, the roots of the trees are inoculated by certified tree growers with truffle spores to ensure truffles will grow.
At Tambo Upper Truffles, this year’s crop has been five years in the making and Damien Albert and his dog DOK are enjoying the challenge of harvest.
“There are no definite 10 steps to success when you’re trying to grow truffles,” Damien said.
“There’s a long lead time and large investment.
“It’s a big punt.” Damien’s interest in the truffle was first sparked during a trip to New Zealand about 15 years ago where he tried the delicacy on several dishes.
The truffle is put with dishes like pasta and even scrambled eggs, adding its own difficult-to-describe, earthy flavour.
DOK, (dog outta kennel), a Visler/Labrador rescue dog advertised in the Bairnsdale Advertiser five years ago, has been trained by Damien to sniff out truffles, which let off a strong odour when ripening.
The Alberts planted 500 trees five years ago, which this year have so far yielded about four to five kilograms.
The plan is to plant a further 500 next year, giving them 1000 trees across three hectares.
The main truffle variety grown on the property is the winter black truffle (tuber melanosporum), and the Alberts are also trialling the bianchetto truffle (tuber borchii) in a small area.
“A thousand trees will be enough,” he said.
“If we can get a couple of hundred grams from each tree that will do.
“It’s not until about year 10 where we can expect to be able to have it at a commercial point.
“This year’s yield will give us the confidence to plant the other half out.”
The truffle investment has included 130 tonnes of lime across the three hectares.
Water is pumped from the nearby Tambo River for irrigation over summer and run through micro sprinklers.
They also don’t like “wet feet” and fortunately the property ‘Riversdale’, which has been in the Albert family for more than 100 years, has a slope sharp enough to create good drainage.
Truffles are harvested from mid-June through until early September, needing the cold snap of winter to ripen.
“I’ll keep the dog out here for the next month or so and see what we find,” Damien said.
IMAGE: Damien Albert and DOK the truffle dog in the grove of 500 evergreen Holm or French oak, deciduous English oak and hazelnut trees at ‘Riversdale’, Tambo Upper. K376-3098