Truffles: the mere name conjures images of leafy European forests where the sun filters through the branches, and farmers stroll with their pig on a leash to search for the black gold of the earth. Truffles are one of nature’s treasures to humans, a luxurious product that has retained its value as one of the most delicious products throughout the globe. It is a fungus that grows underground in symbiosis with a variety of trees. Its powerful scent attracts a large variety of animals, and the truffle reproduces by having their spores spread in the faeces of the animals that eat it.
Although truffles are traditionally best known from French and Italian cuisine, nowadays these cuisines have spread and fused with the international cuisines. Consequently, truffles now feature both in international haute cuisine everywhere, as well as in the home cooking of foodies around the world. Truffle is a miracle of intensity and richness of both scent and flavour, and both are so unique that they cannot be replaced with any other produce. It is impossible to describe the taste of the truffle to someone who has not tried one, but people describe its flavour/scent as musky, leathery, earthy, mushroomy, like garlic fried in butter… Once one has tasted truffles, it is easy to be hooked, and even though the price of truffles is high, it is worth it for the lover of good food.
The Cultivation of Truffles
The use of truffles has spread everywhere, but that is possible only because there are larger quantities of truffles available than ever before. Truffles are found in forests where they grow naturally, but they can also be cultivated by creating truffle orchards. The orchards have trees whose roots are symbiotic with different varieties of truffle fungi. Truffles can grow with pines, oaks, hazelnut trees, birches, beeches, eucalypti, and firs. Nowadays truffles are cultivated in a number of countries, including New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, United States, South Africa, Poland, the Netherlands, and China.
New Zealand has regions that are suitable for truffles, and they have been cultivated there since the 1980s. The demand for truffles in New Zealand is higher than what the country produces, so currently they cannot be exported. However, there are more and more truffle orchards, and the science of cultivating truffles is advancing fast, making it easier and more profitable. Australia is already on the path of becoming one of the world’s largest producers of truffles, and New Zealand is following the trend. The price of truffles remains high; a New Zealand grown Périgord black truffle sells for around $3500 per kilo. The truffle has become a local delicacy that is celebrated in various ways, including The Canterbury Truffle Festival where one can go truffle hunting, try truffles in different dishes, and learn how to cook with it. There are plenty of truffle orchards from the Bay of Plenty to Invercargill, where one can buy truffles. It is best to check the websites of the orchards before going to check whether it is the right season. Like most crops truffles are sensitive to various environmental factors like heat, cold and the amount of rainfall, so the size and quality of the harvest may vary substantially from year to year.