Truffle hunting: the search for black gold in Canberra | HerCanberra

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Truffle hunting: the search for black gold in Canberra

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If you’re anything like me, when you hear the word ‘truffle’ your next thought will be something to do with eating (this applies to both the chocolate and fungi definitions). But while eating truffles is very enjoyable, did you know that as part of the Canberra and Capital Region Truffle Festival you can also go truffle hunting?

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I had my first ever truffle hunting experience a few weekends ago, at the French Black Truffles of Canberra trufferie (i.e. truffle farm). When I say ‘I’ went hunting, what I really mean is Samson, a very clever black labrador, did the hunting, while I and the rest of people in the group followed him.

Before Samson was let loose, his owner and trainer, Jayson, gave us a bit of background about truffles. Truffles are a fungi that grow underground, near the roots of particular trees such as oaks and hazelnuts—they have a symbiotic relationship with the tree. Rather than being eaten on their own like other fungi, e.g. button mushrooms, truffles are used sparingly, to enhance the flavour of other foods, such as eggs, cheese, or potatoes, just to name a few. There are several kinds of truffles, but the ones that are grown around Canberra are black truffles, also known as Perigord or French truffles.

The trufferie had both oak and hazelnut trees, and we watched as Samson bolted off amongst them as soon as he was free of his lead, running back and forth, first in a wide arc, and then narrowing down as he got closer to the hidden treasure.

We knew Samson had struck black gold (as truffles are sometimes called, being one of the most expensive and luxurious foods in the world) when he sat next to a tree—much like how detector dogs sit next to people at the airport, except in this case it’s a good thing when the dog sits.

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When we caught up to Samson, Jayson pointed out the ring of ‘brûlé’ (French for burnt) around the base of the tree, which is a sign that a truffle is present. Turns out that black truffles are good herbicides, as they suppress the growth of other plants around their host tree.

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We were very impressed to see Samson, at Jayson’s command, pinpoint exactly where under the tree the truffle was, by pawing at the ground. Using a small trowel, Jayson carefully dug at the soil, picking some up in his fingers and using his own sense of smell to check for the scent of truffle. He invited us to do the same, and while some people said they could smell truffle, a lot of us just smelt dirt!

Now certain that there was a truffle to be found, Jayson continued digging carefully, with Samson watching on to make sure he was doing it right. Someone joked that it was like archaeology, and we were all amused to hear that yes, on occasion, a brush is actually used.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Samson making sure Jayson does the job properly” type=”image” alt=”IMG_3575.JPG” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” pe2_caption=”1″ ]

And then—success! What looked like a hard lump of dirt to us, Jayson explained, was a truffle, as he used his fingers to prise away the soil around it. And then we saw it, the distinctive black pattern of a truffle. Before digging a truffle up completely, Jayson checks to see if it’s ‘ripe’. If not, he covers it back up to let it grow a bit longer, but if it’s ready, up it comes.

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During the hour or so we spent out on the trufferie, Samson and Jayson found five truffles, which were each handed over to the other member of their team, Danielle, for safe keeping as they were found. We then headed back to the truffle shed, where Jayson washed the truffles and explained to us how truffles are graded, based on weight/density, shape, colour and defects.

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And then we got to try some for ourselves, in a delicious truffle potato soup followed by dessert—truffle crème brulee!

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If you’re keen to experience truffle hunting yourself, there are six trufferies offering hunts as part of the Truffle Festival. You can find out more and book through the Truffle Festival website.

The essentials
The place: French Black Truffles of Canberra
Where: 23 Mt Majura Road, Majura
When:  Wednesdays-Sundays, until 13 August 2015, check websites for times
Bookings: Visit the Truffle Festival website or French Black Truffles of Canberra website

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