Truffle Hunting on the Mornington Peninsula
Everybody knows the rich earthy taste of truffle and loves how much of a fancy foodie they sound by ordering it. But what are these delicious fungi that grow in the ground and how have they come to be such a delicacy?
This weekend we went on a truffle hunt with our friends at Red Hill Truffles to learn more about this delicious product and to celebrate the release of Bass and Flinders 2018 Truffle Gin.
What is a truffle?
Truffles are a fungus that grow underground as the result of a symbiotic relationship with the roots of particular trees (basically, the trees get infected with a fungus root and a truffle starts to grow). When roots from different trees, such as hazelnut or oak trees cross truffles are more likely to grow. They can be found breaking the ground or down 200mm deep and are best located by a trained dog from the smell that they produce. In the past, truffle pigs were used to locate the truffles, however they had a tendency to eat them as soon as they were found (I mean who could blame them) so now it’s more common to find a dog doing the job.
Red hill truffles:
Red Hill Truffles (and other local sites) is where our client Bass and Flinders' have sourced truffles from that they use in their truffle gin and it was the first farm to produce truffles on the Mornington Peninsula. The property is owned and run by Jenny and her husband Mike. It was originally settled in 1864 by Jenny’s Great-grandparents and was inherited by Jenny in 2003. Her and her husband decided they wanted to use the land to experiment with growing the Perigold black truffle.
The area was first considered to be too warm for truffle production, however as Red Hill is 800m above sea level they found that the temperatures were cold enough and the rainfall high enough to produce the cold and frosty conditions perfect for truffle growing.
The first planting of trees was in March 2005, but the first truffle wasn’t found until 2010 under a hazelnut tree, weighing 180 grams. This is miniscule compared to the largest one they have ever produced weighing in at 830 grams (which is about $2000 worth of truffle)!
On Sunday we set off with Jenny around her property with hopes of being lucky and finding some truffles. Their gorgeous canine, Thomas, a Springer Spaniel (pictured below) was our truffle dog for the day, and boy was he good at it, finding 5 decent sized truffles in the two hours we were searching.
To indicate when he had found a truffle Thomas would lay down on top of the ground where it was growing and point his nose at the exact spot where truffles lay, and so, we’d get digging. He only tricked us a couple of times…
You can tell where there is more likely to be truffles by observing the ground around the trees in the farm. If you can see bare ground, and the grass has died around the trunk, this is where you should start digging. This is due to the roots of the truffle actually burning the ground around the tree, this part of the tree is called the brûlée (we knew there was a lot to love about truffles).
Something that you might not know about truffles that we sure as hell didn’t, is that truffles give off testosterone in their scent! Studies have even found that women seem to prefer truffles over men for this very reason. Apparently, some men can’t even smell truffles because of all of the testosterone being emitted. The high levels of testosterone have also been said to evoke primal senses in humans and they have said to be an aphrodisiac. Who knew truffles could be so sexy?
Truffles used in gin:
Truffles are beginning to be used more and more in gin production to create a bold and earthy flavour (perfect for a G&T). Our favourite is produced by the amazing team at Bass and Flinders, the gin reflects their commitment to using seasonal, locally sourced products and it is damn delicious.
Check out their ingenious truffle gin here or go visit their distillery for a taste!