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Does Australia have a truffle culture?


pig finding truffle
Is there anything more quintessentially truffle than a truffle pig?

Well the short answer to that question is absolutely it does. In this blog post we are going celebrate all things truffle culture because sometimes, when it comes to things cultural, you can see your own more clearly when you compare it to what others do. So we will look at European and and American truffle culture and compare it to things Australian. But before we go too far, perhaps it might be an idea to briefly define what we mean by culture. Ready? Lets go!


Culture, as defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, is "behavior peculiar to Homo sapiens, together with material objects used as an integral part of this behavior." But how enlightening is that? Not very.


Culture is hard to define and describe because, like the air we breathe, it's all around us, so we don’t notice it. Let's try an example: the way we eat in Australia is deeply cultural. We use cutlery—knives and forks—when we eat at home, in restaurants, or on picnics. The placement of cutlery beside the plate is specific and well-defined, especially for multiple courses. Each utensil has a designated use; for instance, imagine trying to cut a steak with a spoon.


But did you know that the majority of the Earth’s population doesn't use cutlery? Most people use their hands, and there are specific rituals around this practice, influenced by local religions and customs. To illustrate the notion of culture further, consider this: in 3000 years, when aliens discover Earth and find a fork in the rubble, how will they make sense of it? Will they think it was a weapon humans used? The meaning we ascribe to things, both physical like cutlery and abstract like standing up for the elderly on a bus, are all cultural artifacts.


Now that we’ve covered the basics of culture, let's get onto the fun stuff: truffle culture.


European truffle culture

Its official! Truffle hunting in Italy is part of Italy's and of humanity's culture. In 2021, at the sixteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Italian truffle hunting and extraction was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Thought to be one of the cradles of modern truffle culture, this tradition was acknowledge as a set of knowledge and practices that have been transmitted orally for centuries.


Quoting from the inscription document itself.. ‘Truffle hunters, or tartufai, usually live in rural areas and small villages. There are two steps to truffle hunting: the hunting and the extraction. The hunting entails the identification of areas where the truffle plant grows, from whose roots grows the underground fungus named ‘truffle’. This step is carried out with the help of a trained dog. The hunters then use a special spade that allows them to extract the truffles without disturbing the soil conditions. Truffle hunting involves a wide range of skills and knowledge (about climate, the environment and vegetation) related to the management of natural ecosystems and to the dog-truffle hunter relationship. This knowledge is passed on through oral traditions, including stories, fables, anecdotes and expressions that reflect the local cultural identity and create a sense of solidarity within the truffle hunting community. Truffle hunting is often associated with popular feasts that mark the beginning and end of the truffle season. The practices respect ecological balance and plant biodiversity, ensuring the seasonal regeneration of the truffle species.’


Yes, this is serious stuff, but did you know that in Italy, it's the law that only dogs can be used to find truffles? That's right! Pigs are no longer allowed because they are too damaging to the Italian truffle ecology. But wait, there's more. Did you noticed the mention of special spades used to find truffles? In Italy, truffle hunters are legally required to only use spades of a specific shape to find their truffle. Again so as not to damage the local truffle ecology. See the picture below.


Truffle spades
These are some of the shapes of truffle spades that are able to be used legally in Italy

These are just a few interesting facets of Italian truffle culture. It truly is fascinating and too much to fully cover here. However, if you are interested, one of the most captivating accounts of Italy’s truffle culture is beautifully captured in the documentary 'The Truffle Hunters'. It's the perfect movie to watch on a winter Sunday afternoon with a truffle toasty. Check out the trailer below.





American truffle culture

Yes, America has a truffle culture, and it is perhaps as rich as that of Europe, at least according to the locals. America’s truffle culture is centered around Oregon, where local truffles are hunted in native forests. Similar to Europe, there are secret spots known only to a few. Dogs are trained, and knowledge is passed down from person to person within particular groups.


While I'm not an expert, I know we have some readers from Oregon. It would be great if you could post a comment below providing others with the best ways to access the truffle scene in your area. Dawn, one of our readers, has also published a book that is an amazing resource for anyone interested in truffles. The good news is the information she has collected is easily relatable to all truffles, not just those found in America. Over to you, Dawn, if you're interested, please let know some of your inside information (links) on getting to know your local truffle culture!


Again one of the easiest ways to get a feel of American truffle culture is to dive into Nicolas Cage’s movie ‘Pig’. It’s beautifully shot and another one of those you should watch on a rainy winter Sunday afternoon. Have a look at the trailer below.





Australian truffle culture

You may be interested to know that Australian truffle culture is actually thousands of years old. That’s right—Australia's First Nations people had and still have a truffle culture. Since I am not of Aboriginal heritage, I won't go into the specifics of how native Australian truffles are hunted and consumed, but if you are interested, this passage may be enlightening.


As for modern Australian truffle culture, we have not only adopted many customs from Europe but adapted them to our specific circumstances. The germ of the Australian truffle culture was planted on that fateful cold winter morning in Tasmania on 18 June 1999 by Peter Cooper and his trusty dog Pip, when they found the first tuber melanosporum truffle in Australia. From that day forward, there has been a plethora of truffle dogs trained, truffle farms established, and truffle hunts conducted. Have you participated in one?


Restaurants all over the country host countless truffle events. If you haven't been to one near you, you really should. It's like being on a culinary holiday, where everyone is excited about, talking about, enjoying, and sharing stories about one thing: truffles!


But perhaps the most glorious thing you could do—and I may be biased—is chat with your local farmer at the farmer’s market about their truffles. As a truffle farmer, I can attest that it's one of the most rewarding experiences: speaking to the people who will actually use my truffles in their kitchens. "What dish are you thinking of making?" is my favorite question. From there, the conversation can go anywhere.


Looking forward to seeing you at the markets soon.


And that's a wrap. A post about culture. I hope you liked it. If you did, please consider sharing the joy with your friends and fellow truffle lovers. If you've got any truffle stories or questions, as always, we're all ears.


Ciao for now truffle lovers.


Carmine

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