WA’s truffle crop is gunning to become one of the biggest in the world, and is soon to surpass the French harvest.
Story Fleur Bainger Photo Jessica Wyld
There’s good reason Western Australia’s truffle industry uses dogs – not pigs – to sniff out its subterranean goodies. “Pigs love truffles – they’ll take your fingers off,” says Alex Wilson, of Australia’s single largest truffle producer, The Truffle and Wine Co (TWC). Dogs prefer Schmackos to fungus, Alex says. But there are other advantages. “You can easily get three dogs in the back of a station wagon – not so easy with a pig.”
The French began cultivating truffles around the same time Australia was being colonised, in the 1790s. Two centuries later, WA truffle producers observed Europe’s traditions then decided to do it their own way. They planted their first truffle orchards, inoculated with the spores of France’s black Périgord nuggets, in 1997. Now hitting its peak, WA’s production is rivalling France’s output, and even French chefs have gone on record to say the whiffy Australian produce is excellent quality.
Bets are on that WA will become the world’s second-largest truffle exporter, after Spain, within the next decade. No-one bats an eyelid over the remote growing location; WA’s truffles can be sent across the globe within 48 hours.
Sprouting at the toes of oak and hazelnut trees, the rare, often golf-ball-sized fungus is shrouded in wonder and mystique. Much of that is due to its price: the black truffle is one of the most expensive food items on the planet, treasured for its pungent aroma. Nicknamed ‘black gold’, truffles fetch around $2500/kg. They’re farmed right across Australia – everywhere except the Northern Territory – but WA is easily the country’s powerhouse. Some 85% of the nation’s truffles are produced in its south-western corner.
WA’s truffle-growing hotspot is Manjimup, specifically the pocket of land within a 30km radius of the former timber-milling town, about three hours’ drive south of Perth. The bucolic region, known as the Southern Forests, is home to some of the tallest trees on Earth, and its soils and climate are ideal for truffles.
“The whole of Australia produced 15 tonnes (t) in the 2019 season,” Alex says. “Back of the envelope calculations conservatively suggest we grew 13.5t of that in Manjimup.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #128
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2020