We’re going on a truffle hunt, we’re going to catch a big one, what a beautiful day!
From freshly churned truffle butter, to house-made fettuccine topped with truffle shaved at the table, Zin is rich with the earthy, nutty flavours of new season truffles.
So what’s all the fuss about? Grown underground on the roots of trees like pines & oaks, these funky flavoured clusters of edible fungi take a skilled hand to cultivate over a year, then are delicately harvested across a ~6 week period, before needing to be consumed shortly after to avoid losing their potency.
It’s a time consuming, unpredictable, yet rewarding process, so of course Kim’s already got her sights set on our own organic & biodynamic Tinja Trufferie. In fact the 200+ inoculated saplings have begun growing, although we are far from a first harvest yet. In the meantime, the ones currently gracing the Zin House menu are being sourced exclusively from our mates at OakShade Truffles in Mudgee.
To gather our full appreciation for this distinctive ingredient, the Zin team recently headed out to the OakShade property, where new owners Matt & Olivia took them on their own truffle hunt.
Truffle Hunting at OakShade
Home to over 5000 beautiful Robur and Ilex Oak trees, this property has been producing some of the region’s best black périgord truffles since 2017. As they are best consumed within 3-4 days after being pulled from the ground, the OakShade team hunts truffles on demand, so orders like ours receive the freshest possible.
Sniffing them out
Traditionally female pigs were used to hunt for truffles because of their refined sense of smell & keen attraction to the scent, however these days typically truffle dogs are used instead (as they are much less likely than pigs to chow down on the truffles they sniff out).
Walter, OakShade’s Springer Spaniel puppy, has only just begun his truffle hunting training, as such, in the meantime some more experienced ‘contract’ sniffers are brought in to help identify where to dig. As the ripe truffles are identified, they are marked with colour coded flags, then dug out delicately by hand & brushes.
Bringing them to table
Once pulled from the ground, quality of the aroma, marble & absence of pests are assessed, then the truffles are thoroughly cleaned, cool stored and delivered to consumers to be used in the next 10 days. Although smaller truffles are favoured by chefs as they are easier to handle and use, OakShade still found pride in their largest truffle to date, weighing 960 grams!
The harvest season normally lasts around 6 weeks between June and August, during which time you will see plenty of truffles across our menus. Following this time, the trees are trimmed and pruned, before being reinoculated in spring to start the symbiotic growth process again.
Before taking over, Matt & Olivia spent a year learning the ins and outs of this arduous process from the previous owners, Andrew & Wendy. Calling it much more than just agriculture, they are happy to now be seeing the physical results of a very steep learning curve.
The trick to that is to keep the trees under a considerable amount of stress, so they keep relying on the truffles to attach to the roots. Once this happens, they form a symbiotic relationship where the truffle will attach itself to the fine hair-like roots at the very end of the network, underneath the trees. The tree and the truffle help each other, they trade nutrients and work together to grow in harmony. They also work together to inhibit the growth of most vegetation underneath the tree to reduce root competition.
GROWING OUR TINJA TRUFFERIE
As for our own mini Trufferie, this has begun taking shape with the planting of 100 Stone Pines, 75 English Oaks and 125 HollyOaks all located in the field alongside the entrance driveway of our Tinja Farm. These have already been inoculated with a mix of Bianchetto White Truffle and French Black Truffle.
Black vs White Truffles
Both black & white varieties have umami qualities, with a nutty, woody flavour, and pungent aroma, however the white is considered the rarest of delicacies as flavour is more concentrated, and cultivation is much harder. As such they are mostly kept away from heat, rather shaved over dishes raw to preserve the flavour, whereas black truffle is often also used to create oils, cheeses, butters and alike.
Years to come
We hope this infant Trufferie will reward our patience in the next few years, however it can take up to 10 years for conditions to align for truffle growth, if at all. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed, and in the meantime take comfort knowing we’re in good supply of fantastic truffles from OakShade’s established Trufferie.
A special thanks to Matt & Olivia from OakShade Truffles for their time & fantastic product.
Images & video by Hannah Edensor, Words by Bronte Currie.