n: black truffle
l: majura valley, act
s: june - august
Interview with truffle farmer: Jayson Mesman
From planting to the plate, what is the life span of a French black truffle?
The truffles appear in the ground early in the year, January and February, but will not start to put on weight, size and all important aroma until truffle season, early June to late August. Once a truffle is harvested from the earth and the mycelium is broken, the truffle has a very short life span. Restaurants will typically not have a truffle longer than 10 days, whereas a home cook may be able to use a truffle for up to 21 days.
Where do truffles like to grow and when are they in season?
Truffles like to grow on the roots of inoculated oak and hazelnut trees. They are in season on the majority of truffle farms on Australia between early to mid June and mid to late August.
Something interesting about truffles that we may be surprised to learn?
Traditionally in Europe pigs were used to hunt for truffle. Many people believe that pigs are drawn to truffles because to odour mimics that of the pheromones of a male pig. That has been disproved but many still quote it as a fact.
Where did your interest in farming come from?
My interest came through my work with the dogs. I was in a position where I had the opportunity to work on a significant proportion of the truffle farms (trufferies) in Australia and saw varying degrees of success. As a dog handler I have been exposed to a number of different truffle farms. Through my experience I noted each farm had different soils, different plantations, different watering systems and as a result different smelling truffles. I become very interested in the role these aspects play in the production of truffles and became more involved in the farming side of the truffle industry.
As a farmer, what are your thoughts on better understanding the process and origins of our food?
Working in the truffle industry has really made me appreciate how we should all just take only what we need, understand the origin of our food, and buy locally. As much as there is demand in Europe and Asia for our produce, the life span of a truffle in not necessarily conducive to being transported great distances, so we must work with local suppliers to ensure that we maximise the time spent going from paddock to plate. Understanding how to get truffles to the customer really made me understand and examine what every farmer must go through to get their product to market. Many farmers in the truffle industry try to produce as much truffle as they can to maximise their profit margins. But this doesn’t work well with truffles – they cannot be harvested quickly on mass with vast numbers of unskilled (and cheap) labour – hence their price tag. The way some farms operate to maximise profit cause huge destruction to the natural environment and overall to their own ongoing production levels. For a truffle farm to be successful you must work in harmony with the surrounding environment to push production past a few years.
What is the best part about being a truffle farmer?
Working with the dogs and being outside is the best part for me. Also never knowing whether you are about to uncover a huge buried treasure! The hunt and the digging are still very exciting for me, even after a decade of working on truffle farms. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about what is a very secretive industry with the public when we take them out on hunts.
The worst part?
The cold. Even though I don’t really feel the cold having grown up in Canberra my entire life, I often have to hunt in the most freezing temperatures and dig in the cold dirt with my bare hands. The truffle season runs only through winter so unfortunately we must hunt no matter what the weather outside.
Whats your favourite way to eat truffle?
My favourite way to eat truffle is probably in truffle butter. It is a little cliché, I know, but the butter is so versatile and lasts for a long time when you freeze it. You can have it just on a crusty loaf of bread or use it under the skin of a roast chicken. Or you can more complex and sear fresh local Australian scallops in the butter or use it to make your own truffle puff pastry or pasta.
Jayson Mesman is the farm manager and dog trainer of French Black Truffles of Canberra. French Black Truffles of Canberra is located in the Majura Valley, Canberra, and run truffle hunts for the public during the winter season.
coming soon: a recipe for black truffle