::: TASTES OF TASMANIA

Culinary black gold

By GRAEME PHILLIPS | On an early winter’s morning, in the late 1990s, one of Peter Cooper’s workers walked towards him down the row of mixed oaks and hazels, hands in front of his body cupping a dirty black nugget, and innocently asked “Is this a truffle?”

It was the first truffle found in Tasmania, the first of only five found in that first season.

the trees starkly bare under a grey sky threatening rain. Perhaps lightning too, which the ancients believed was what produced these black “callosities of earth”

In 2003 almost 3kg were found in trufferies around the State. In 2004 Cooper and his partner, Duncan Garvey, of Perigord Truffles of Tasmania, were hoping to harvest many more as the inoculated trees they’ve planted in 30 sites around the State begin to mature.

On a winter's mornng, we’re in a 3ha trufferie on a property behind Longford, tucked in under the Western Tiers, the trees starkly bare under a grey sky threatening rain. Perhaps lightning too, which the ancients believed was what produced these black “callosities of earth”, what the French author Colette called “black Princesses”.

French folklore goes further, claiming virgins are best, virgin sows and bitches, only bettered by a virgin spinster whose nose, on smelling a truffle, they say, turns red and points the way

In Europe it’s believed sows and bitches are best at smelling out the underground fungi, attracted by the truffle’s musky aroma, chemically similar to a hormone secreted in male sweat and saliva.

French folklore goes further, claiming virgins are best, virgin sows and bitches, only bettered by a virgin spinster whose nose, on smelling a truffle, they say, turns red and points the way.

Peter Cooper uses dogs — five springer spaniels and a black, all-Australian allsort called Ocki. He releases four of them and off they go, zigzagging from tree to tree, sniffing, pausing and moving excitedly on. The trees here are only 5-6 years old, a little too young to raise too many expectations. But truffles were found here last year, there’s already been some good chilling frosts in the area to ripen whatever truffles there might be, most of trees are surrounded by a wide ‘ebrulee’, or grass burn, indicating underground fungal activity and, well, you can only hope.

In Sydney, Tim Pak Poy of Claude’s Restaurant fame, is keeping his fingers crossed too. With a big dinner planned for Thursday evening to celebrate the first truffles of the season, he’s already phoned twice, before the dogs had even started, nervously enquiring whether we’d found any.

And then Bill, the most experienced of the spaniels, stops in his tracks, does an excited pirouette, snuffles the ground and starts furiously digging. Cooper grabs and drags him away amidst lots of “Good boy, good boy” and a rewarding sliver of Spam — which strikes me, and no doubt Bill, as hardly a fair exchange. [Continued]

PART I | PART II


Peter Cooper noses out some more black gold, above, and then gingerly digs it out

Photography by Peter Whyte



Malt whisky from Tasmania