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The Yarra Valley's the place for truffles July 21, 2005 - theage.com.au
Tasmania has them. So does Western Australia and NSW, albeit in still minute quantities. And yesterday the discovery of black truffles - the world's most valuable subterranean fungus - on a farm near Hoddles Creek in the Yarra Valley brought Victoria into the ranks of states mining a new kind of black gold.
At 10am yesterday, with the help of Pickles, a beagle truffle hound from Tasmania, vigneron and grazier Greg Kerr pulled his first 250 gram truffle from the ground of a specially planted trufferie on his family's property, Tibooburra, about 70 kilometres from Melbourne.
It is believed to be the first found in the state. Another six smaller truffles were found during the day, a total of 500 grams.
Prized for their heady, aromatic pungency, black truffles from France and Italy frequently fetch as much as $3000 a kilogram when they're at their best, during the European winter. Their pale cousins from Piedmont, in Italy fetch between $4000 and $6000 a kilogram.
"It's the most amazing thing to be standing there and get the perfume of the truffle as it's unearthed. It's really something to behold," said Mr Kerr, who planted 400 trees inoculated with the truffle spore in 2001.
"Have you ever smelled a bull's breath?" asked an excited Mr Kerr yesterday, standing among his hazelnut and oak trees. "These truffles have an amazing bovine, funky kind of molasses smell. There could be some very happy chefs in Melbourne in the next 24 hours."
The black truffle once grew abundantly under oak and hazelnut trees in southern France, but production has plummeted over the past century. The French started inoculating trees with truffle spores in the 1960s.
Tasmanian Duncan Garvey, who shares the spoils of the Tibooburra trufferie with Mr Kerr, introduced the technology to Tasmania in 1993, marketing his inoculated trees under the banner Perigord Truffles of Tasmania.
The first truffle from a tree inoculated by Mr Garvey was found in June 1999 in Tasmania. Yields have been small and slow to reach the table but a monster truffle weighing more than a kilogram was found at Manjimup, WA, last month.
"We're very satisfied," Mr Kerr said. "We've proven a lot of doubting Thomases wrong. The signs are there we can sustain a long-term commercial enterprise."
Mr Garvey said: "I've seen a lot of truffles in the past five or six years and I would take these (Yarra Valley) truffles to the back door of any restaurant anywhere in the world. They're that good."
He said the best examples of yesterday's harvest were worth $3000 a kilogram.
"A part of what we're trying to do is harvest truffles today and have them in a restaurant tomorrow, because that's when you really appreciate the freshness."
Top Melbourne chefs who spoke to The Age yesterday said they were keen to assess the local product.
Shannon Bennett of Vue de Monde, Paul Wilson of The Botanical and Andrew McConnell of Circa, the Prince, said they were keen to be among the first in line to try the local truffles.