The truffle hunt at Tibooburra Vineyard took place, and was a success, although I left after one and a half hours, with Greg Kerr (Tibooburra owner and vigneron) and dog owner/handler Georgie Patterson continuing the day’s work in an endeavour to meet backorders for 1kg.
The photographs tell 90% of the story, but, incredibly stupidly, I didn’t take a photo of Greg Kerr with his nose to the ground after the dog had suggested the presence of a truffle. In the six years he has been harvesting truffles, he has been able to develop his sense of smell to the point where he can have a fair idea whether the truffle is ready to harvest (or is ripe), and can also have a fair idea about false nose-outs by the dog. This happens with other fungi, but also things such as ants nests – we had one this morning, and apparently it is the formic acid that misleads the dog. However, it should be forgiven. It works at a frenetic pace, and – having discovered a truffle – gives one lightning-fast scratch that barely marks the surface. Since the truffles are less than 10cm below the surface, its natural instinct to dig has been curbed by training.
There are good vintages for truffles, and not so good. This is partly determined by the amount of rain, heat and other factors between December and March when the embryonic truffles start to gain mass. In another decade he thinks he may be able to be more able to accurately predict what will happen in a given year. July is the start of the peak period of 12 weeks for the harvest. Once exhumed, the truffles stay alive for 10 to 12 days, and during this period are far more aromatic than later. So it’s a split second timing issue for Greg Kerr and his small stable of chosen restaurants which buy the truffles.
The largest truffle harvested in our presence was around 35gm (43gm with the dirt still adhering) and that truffle had a particularly favourable scent.
The inoculated hazelnut and blue oak trees are sold in pots from the supplier in Tasmania, and in Tibooburra’s case, produced their first truffles after only two and a half years, which Greg Kerr believes to be the least period recorded. Sometimes the wait is five or more years.
Aussie Truffle Dogs: http://www.aussietruffledogs.com.au/