HISTORY OF THE TRUFFLE
People around the world have enjoyed truffles for thousands of years. And other animals have hunted for them for millions of years. The truffle story is one of partnerships – the host tree with its symbiotic fungal friend, the fragrant fruiting fungus with its animal consumers, then the enrichment of the forests in creating living forest ecosystems, more recently in partnership with people. Desert and Northern Australians enjoyed their indigenous truffles, and this painting by artist Betsy Napangardi Lewis shows.
The most traded valuable culinary truffle in the world today is the French Black Winter Truffle – Tuber melanosporum. Modern European truffle culture has a fascinating history. In fourteenth century France, the then resident Popes banned them (did they observe their powers close-up and decide that this fruit should be forbidden?). Truffles found favour again in the 1800s. The natural forests were “cultivated” with the gathering of firewood and the grazing of animals, creating the ideal environment for the truffle to flourish – sun on the roots in cleared ground, with animals attracted by the aromas to eat the truffles and then spread their spore to then reproduce in the forest.
In 1910, France produced 110 tons of wild truffles but with WW1’s devastation, many French truffle hunters were killed and subsequent massive rural depopulation saw many truffle secrets lost. One hundred years later, French truffle production is perhaps only 40 tons each year from both wild and cultivated fields depending on the season, while in Spain, their production is 35 to 65 tons, depending on seasonality.
TRUFFLES IN AUSTRALIA
Australian truffle production has been growing rapidly - so much so that we're now the 3rd largest truffle growing nation (depending on seasonal variations across Spain, France, Australia and Italy).
There are over 200 truffle farms in Australia, with Western Australia's Manjimup region being host to the largest farms in the country - one of these has over 38,000 host truffle trees! On the East coast, farms tend to be much smaller, with anything from 200 to 3,500 trees.
Australia produced more than 20 tons of fresh truffle in 2019 and so is now a major player in the world of truffles.
The Truffle Melbourne festival is organised by truffle grower, Festival Director and truffle judge Nigel Wood. “Our aim is to democratise the truffle and to celebrate this fragrant seasonal ingredient. Truffles are about winter: haunting aromas, unique and memorable experiences" he said. His favourite truffle dish? “Farm scrambled eggs made with truffle infused eggs” – so we made a video for you!
Truffles are an affordable luxury in winter and because their scents are so powerful, so only a small amount is needed to turn an ordinary dish into something truly amazing. Three to six grams per person per dish is what we recommend. Softer and complementary background flavours allow the truffle to shine. Fats and a little heat carry and release the flavour and aroma best. Cheeses, eggs, pork fat, chicken, seafood and root vegetables are perfect truffle partners in the kitchen. And there’s a huge range of the best Australian and European truffle produce at trufflemelbourne.com- where our aim is to bring affordable truffle tastes to you.
For more information about truffles around the world, check out Dr Greg Bonito’s presentation at the 2014 Truffle Melbourne Festival here.