The complex and alluring nature of truffles has captivated civilisations for centuries.

Revered by the Egyptians, coveted by the Greeks and Romans, and favoured by French aristocracy, truffles have long been a luxurious delicacy reserved for the rich and powerful. Even today where they are more accessible, the intensive hands-on nature of the growing process and infrequent yields means that the demand for this ingredient remains strong and truffles continue to be a highly sought prize.

While they generally conjure images of quaint woodland farms in France, you may be surprised to know that there is also booming industry happening in Australia and it’s producing some of the world’s best produce. Great Southern Truffles sources the very best Australian truffles from growers in Western Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales, and was the first company to export Australian truffles to the world. We chat to the truffle experts at Great Southern Truffles to shed some light on this intriguing ingredient.

What are truffles?

Truffles are quite a mysterious thing in that they don’t quite fit into a particular category. Technically they are a type of underground fungus, but they can also be classified as a vegetable. They have a bumpy, scaly appearance with a texture similar to a potato. Truffles have an intense, pungent, earthy fragrance that is often likened to a forest floor, seafood, chocolate or even smelly socks! Only a very small amount is needed to infuse a dish with flavour.

Where do they come from?

Truffles grow in amongst the roots of Oak and Hazelnut trees in a symbiotic relationship, meaning that they assist each other to grow and survive. The trees provide the truffles with carbohydrates and in return the truffles give back micronutrients. Truffles also rely on other factors such as water and warmth to grow. In Australia we irrigate our truffles rather than rely on rainfall, which is why at the moment we are growing some of the best truffles in the world.

How do you harvest them?

It can take around eight years to produce a truffle. They grow during the warm summer months and are harvested in winter, so there is only one harvest a year. Finding ripe truffles is a specialized job that used to be done by pigs, but now we use highly trained dogs. Taking into account the direction of the wind, we strategically maneuver the dogs around the farm and they use their heightened sense of smell to detect the truffle’s aroma. Because of the high demand for this delicacy, fresh truffles can retail for over $2000 per kg. Luckily you only need a very small amount to create amazing dishes!

How would you use them in the kitchen?

Everyone should experience fresh truffle at least once in their life.  Fresh truffles are only available for a few months of the year so it’s important not to miss out! However, there are also lots of other great products such as truffle oil, truffle honey and even truffle mustard that allow you to enjoy the flavour all year round.

As truffles have such a strong flavour its best to let them be the hero of the dish and pair with very simple flavours. They are a beautiful addition to pasta, risotto or eggs, where the heat of the dish will help to bring out the their flavour. Some chefs even love to simply shave them over a piece of bread and butter.