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A short truffle history. Their journey from Europe to Australia.

In the realm of culinary treasures, few delicacies hold the mystique and allure of truffles. These elusive fungi, concealed beneath the earth's surface, have tantalized the taste buds of food enthusiasts for countless generations. Join us as we embark on a captivating journey through time, tracing a fascinating short history from their ancient European origins to their triumphant arrival in the bountiful lands of Oz.


Truffle artwork
The human love of truffle goes back to ancient times.

A short European truffle history

Long ago, in a bygone era, the precise moment of truffle discovery by humans remains obscured by the veils of time. Yet, their earliest documented mention whispers through the annals of history. A remarkable clay tablet, etched in ancient cuneiform script, was uncovered within the hallowed library of an Amorite king. Dating back to approximately 1750 BC, this artifact reveals a fascinating exchange between the monarch and his loyal butler. In the correspondence, the king expresses his discontent, "The last batch of truffles you sent me was not good at all." In response, the butler defends his choice, saying, "Your highness, I procured these truffles as per your request. These were the offerings brought to me by the truffle pickers." This glimpse into history reveals not only of the persistent challenges of sourcing quality truffles but also seems to show, even back then, truffle pickers possessed a penchant for harvesting prematurely.


During the Roman Empire, truffles gained immense popularity. Romans were known for their love of luxurious food, and truffles became a sought-after delicacy in their extravagant banquets. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder dedicated an entire chapter in his Naturalis Historia to truffles, highlighting their unique flavour and aphrodisiac properties.


With the decline of the Roman Empire, truffles fell into obscurity during the Dark Ages. However, their allure resurfaced during the Renaissance. Italian nobility, including the Medici family, revived interest in truffles, viewing them as a symbol of luxury and sophistication.


Europe, a cradle of culinary traditions, nurtured a rich tapestry of truffle varieties. Among the most revered was the Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum), which called the enchanting forests of France and certain regions of Italy its home. Renowned for its robust aroma, this coveted gem held an esteemed place in the realm of gourmet cuisine. Across the lush landscapes of Italy, another esteemed variety, the Queen of truffles, the white Alba (Tuber magnatum), reigned supreme. Its delicate, complex flavour bewitched the palates of epicureans and gourmands alike. And let us not forget the summer truffle (Tuber aestivum) and the Burgundy truffle (Tuber uncinatum), each with its own unique allure.


While Europe had long been the exclusive haven for truffles, the past half-century has witnessed an extraordinary global expansion of truffle production. The enigmatic secrets of truffle cultivation were gradually unlocked, and the mesmerizing fungi found new homes across the continents. From the United States to China, Greece to Turkey, and even to the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, in countries like New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina, truffles flourished, captivating the hearts of culinary connoisseurs.


A short Australian truffle history

They arrived in Australia in 1999. To be exact the first European truffle was first unearthed here on a cold winter morning in Tasmania on 18 June 1999 by Peter Cooper and his trusty dog Pip. We spoke to Peter for this blog post but more on that exchange a bit later dear reader. For now, let’s track the journey of that little 23-gram truffle and how it came to be found by Peter and Pip the springer spaniel.


It all started in the early 1990, so the story goes, at a dinner party attended by Duncan Garvy where the conversation rounded on the gourmet experience of European truffle. Before long, as it seems when all good company gathers, dreamy excitable conversations ensue and sometimes, just sometimes, the planets align with a huge ‘what if’? 'What if, we had them here in Australia?' Imagine they all agreed. And so, the journey began.


Duncan, together with Peter Cooper and others started a journey of exploration to cultivate the black winter truffle (tuber melanosporum) in Tasmania. Duncan, Peter, and their colleague Dr Daryl Brown compiled a huge and rigorous knowledge base over years of research which included a PhD and a Nuffield Scholarship which you can read about in a paper written by Duncan and Peter for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation here. Some of the problems they had to solve were irrigation rates for optimal tree and truffle growth, soil pH levels and most critically whether native fungi would attack and kill the introduced European spore.


Key to the project was engaging local farmers to host the experiment with the eventual establishment of over 30 truffieres across Tasmania. Enter the fourth key character to the establishment of the Australian truffle industry, Tim Terry. Yep, the father of Henry and Anna Terry who we all know from MasterChef.


Now picture this, that faithful morning, truffle hunter Peter Cooper with his highly trained truffle hound Pip walking up and down the rows of Tim Terry’s truffiere. One of the things that go through your head as you walk past tree after tree without finding a truffle is whether you trained your dog well. Did I use the right sent, how can they smell something so far underground, etc etc until bang! ……………walking past a tree, the tell-tale

body language every truffle hunter eagerly awaits. The head turn! This happens when our pup walks past the truffle but suddenly, at almost the same moment the aroma fills the olfactory canal the head snaps back to catch that second whiff, this time closer to the source. By now the body is fully behind the head as it powers the nose to the dirt where the pungent smell is coming from. The final gesture, if the dog is so trained, is a light scrape of the ground with its front paw to show the master where they should dig for that diamond.


It has been almost 24 years since that faithful day and when I called Peter to chat about his find, the first thing he said, without hesitation was, ‘you bet, I found it under the 12th tree of row 4 in the truffiere', and sure enough, that excitement and pride was still apparent in his voice. And thus, was born the Australian truffle industry dear reader.


So next time you venture to enjoy an Australian black truffle, tip you head to the characters that dared to dream of truffles in Australia. What a legacy they have left us?!


Oh, one last point, as a final suggestion taken from our history. Let me be the first to suggest that while there is no official start to the Australian truffle harvest, who can think of a better day than the 18th of June every year.


What do you think dear reader? Do you have a better date? If you do let us know in the comments section below. If you enjoyed this post, give us a like, better still share it with a friend so they can enjoy it as well.


Ciao for now.


Carmine


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2 comentários


Carmine Di Campli
Carmine Di Campli
22 de jun. de 2023

It has been cold this year. Hopefully a big plus for truffle everywhere!

Curtir

Somewhere between science and fantasy, the 18th of June seems to be a pretty good date for the cold snap that triggers frost and truffles. In Canberra, this year, it was only 2 days late, but when it hit, it hit hard. Overnight, low went from a mild 3°C on 19 June down to -5.6°C and -7.6°C on 20 and 21 June.

Curtir
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