Truffle Treasure Hunting in Australia
One of Australia’s Famous Truffle Orchards: Australian Truffle Traders
By Quinn He
Many of us have heard, seen, or if you’re lucky, tasted a black truffle, the highly regarded cousin of the mushroom.
We’ve also seen luxury products advertised that boast to be infused with precious truffles, although oftentimes such products don’t have a single iota of truffle DNA coursing through them.
True truffles are seasonal fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with certain tree roots in nature.
The mycelial network from the truffles clings to tree roots in order for them to exchange nutrients and sugars, it’s a sweet gig for both parties.
80 Different Species of Truffle
With over 80 different species of truffles, there are several that chefs and restaurateurs fawn over. The most common are winter black, winter white, summer black, and summer white truffles.
Truffle hunting can be quite difficult, especially for those without the necessary guidance of a truffle sniffing dog. One farm in Australia is making it easier for regular customers and truffle enthusiasts to go out on a truffle hunting trip and come away with their own truffles.
During the months of May to September, the season of the truffle, Australian Truffle Traders harvest and host guided truffle hunting tours. Australian Truffle Traders is a family-owned business operating out of Manjimup, Western Australia.
Operated by the Booth family, the company specializes in growing and supplying the Australian Black Truffle (tuber melanosporum) to chefs and restaurants across the globe.
Gavin Booth, a member of the Booth family and owner of the orchard said that June to August is the period of time where the company sees most of its truffle hunting customers.
The Booth family, owners of the truffle orchard, have been in the truffle business for about 14 years now. They touch every part of the truffle trade, from growing and distributing to dog training, the Booth family knows how to produce a fine truffle; a task that isn’t as easy as they make it out to be.
The Fantastic Fungi
Truffles are known to be tricky to farm, but if conditions are perfect, a bountiful truffle orchard can be equivalent to a gold mine.
The soil needs to be right, the relationship between trees needs to be right, the weather conditions need to be right, the terrain needs to be right, the list goes on.
The Booth family has managed to masterfully tend their truffle orchard for a significant amount of time and have fruited a successful truffle business that’s know throughout the world.
What makes a truffle so special? Why are they such a sought-after ingredient for many chefs and restauranteurs? Gavin informed, “Truffles are unique and they are subjective. What you find is a percentage of the population find truffles amazingly alluring and a percentage find them the opposite.
Nothing Like a Truffle
“There is no foodstuff like it – the flavor of truffles is almost impossible to describe, it’s a primary flavor. Not only are truffles unique, but the season is also short and that makes them highly sought.”
When truffle conversations swing towards supply and demand, one cannot brush over the sheer effort and behind the scenes labor that goes into supplying the fruitful fungi.
Ancient Soils and Filtration
“We have ancient soils that have a natural filtration system, together with the pure rainwater, the southwest corner of Australia is the garden bed for the truffle to grow.
We also have the third largest trees on the planet, the majestic karri trees. It’s a stunningly beautiful part of the planet. Come visit!” We should take him up on that offer.
Let the Truffle Hunt Begin
These guided tours begin at the Booth family orchard and are led by their truffle tracing dogs Molly, Gidgee, and Max. Their sensitive noses are trained to follow the earthy, nutty, aroma of the truffles.
Hunting truffles was never an easy feat so truffle hunting pigs were the primary mammalian guides for hunters. Since pigs are as good at eating truffles as they are at unearthing them, hunters began to use dogs as a more domestic guide.
After following the dogs for some time, if they manage to sniff one out, a customer has a once in a lifetime experience by digging the truffle out of the ground themselves.
That nutty, hazel, earthy scent is always freshest when it’s first unearthed. That child-like excitement can fill someone’s body as it feels like they’re digging for treasure and in some sense, it is.
Reservations for a hunt run from July to August, the Manjimup truffle season, with a 2-hour session running about $60. Children under 10 years old can tag along with a ticket-holding adult for free.
Manjimup: Capital of Aussie Truffles
The private hunting sessions in Manjimup, Western Australia continue to be the capital of truffle country with the most truffles in the Southern Hemisphere. The environment is prime for truffles to fruit like mad in the ground.
Gavin Booth explains it like this: “They arrive on the farm and we talk about Australia’s place in the world of truffle and the truffle journey from paddock to plate. What astounds people is that we unearth truffles and they can be delivered to your door within 24 to 48 hours (within Australia). Before COVID, we could guarantee truffle delivery overseas within 48 hours too (we’re at the mercy of the airlines).
“Then we walk through the orchard with Molly, Gidgee or Max, our trained truffle dogs, and follow them as they nose out ripe truffles. The excitement on the faces when the dogs find a truffle is what makes my job so much fun.
“After the truffle hunt, we go back to the warehouse for a truffle tasting – it could be a little bit of truffle cheese, sometimes truffle eggs, or truffle butter with fresh bread. We also demonstrate the grading and packing of truffles.”
The Challenge of Time
When discussing what the trickiest part about the truffle hunting process, Gavin remarked, “The hardest part is the sheer time and amount of labor involved. It takes 10 to 15 years for an orchard to be commercially viable.” He went on to note, “Time is the challenge.”
And time is the challenge not just with waiting for an orchard to become viable, but also for dogs, a necessary piece to truffle hunting, to become highly efficient at sniffing out those delectable truffles.
“You have to be patient with dogs, it takes three years to fully train a dog and its human for finding truffles – it really is a team effort.
“You need to have that rapport and relationship with the dog to be effective.”
The Booth family trains their dogs, not only to just seek out truffles but to also seek ripe and ready truffles.
For truffle enthusiasts around the world, the Booth family’s orchard is the place to visit and witness first-hand the hunting process they have perfected over the decades.
They have put so much care and effort into what they do and we watch it pay off as the Australian Truffle Traders are one of the biggest names in truffle distribution.