HISTORY OF TRUFFLES

Truffles are native to the Oak and Hazel forests of Europe, especially Italy and France. The Périgord region of southern France is famous for the French Black truffle. Truffles were harvested for hundreds of years traditionally using a pig with its acute sense of smell. In modern times, due to safety and handling issues, most hunters have replaced pigs with dogs.

In Europe the harvest yields have been steadily declining over the last hundred years from around 1000 tonnes in 1900 down to about 50 tonnes per year now. The reasons for this are to do with urbanisation, two world wars, increasing acid rain and indiscriminate harvesting methods.

Only in the last twenty years or so has a concerted effort been made to artificially grow these in a farming sense. Science is now assisting in providing improved methods of innoculating tree seedlings and improved agronomy and cultural advice.

Truffles are one of the most highly sought after and valued foods in the world and this strong demand and unfulfilled supply has caused a steepening of prices. Grade A truffles retail for more than $3,000 per kilogram making them one of the world’s most expensive food crops. 

THE INDUSTRY IN AUSTRALIA

Truffles are a relatively new crop in Australia. Plantings (known as Truffières {truffle orchards}) began in the 1990’s in Tasmania and Western Australia with the first truffles being harvested in 1999. Truffières are now established and producing in Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT, South Australia and southern Queensland.

MARKETING POTENTIAL

Truffles (especially the French Black) are harvested during winter, which of course is six months apart from the harvest period in the northern hemisphere (January and February). This means the Australian and New Zealand markets are not competing with Europe for fresh truffles. This opens an enormous opportunity for export into Japan, Europe and the USA.

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) released a report “Taking stock of the Australian Truffle Industry” by Barry Lee in July 2008 which highlighted this export potential and expected industry growth of 100% over the next five years. Although the five years have concluded, it is still an excellent overview of the industry in Australia.

CLEAN & GREEN INDUSTRY

Establishing a truffière on Australian soils generally requires heavy amelioration with lime to raise the pH to 8. Usually this pH level does not favour the local mycorrhizae which are not able to compete or replace the French Black truffle. This purity of species is a big advantage for Australia because in many European Truffières, where the soils are naturally alkaline, there can be several competing mycorrhizae established.

The Chinese truffle (Tuber indicum) and also Tuber brumale are similar looking truffles to the French Black however have a poor culinary reputation and are of low economic value. These remain a major danger to our industry if they were to become established. The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) is not allowing the importation of these culinarily inferior truffles.

The Australian Truffle Growers Association is seeking to develop a Quality and Accreditation scheme for Inoculation Nurseries to ensure only the desired Tuber species are propogated on the host trees.