A typically French delicacy is now being harvested and enjoyed in Queensland’s Granite Belt, with local growers, chefs and truffle-hunting canines all playing their part in the expanding industry.
Matt Hibberd, founder of Stanthorpe’s new Truffle Discovery Centre, says truffles have been cultivated in Australia since the late 1990s, but truffle growers are generally reluctant to seek publicity.
‘Queensland truffle growers are generally very secretive because of their concerns about biosecurity and theft,’ Matt said.
‘With no other truffle ventures open to the public, we opened our Truffle Discovery Centre at Stanthorpe last winter to cater to Queensland truffle fans.
‘We have two display truffle plantations, with a mix of hazelnut and English oak trees purchased from one of the two places in Australia that has a patent to coat the roots of the seedlings with truffle spores.
‘We offer guided tours of our two plantations, and we also run displays of our truffle detection dogs at work.’
While Matt’s own truffle plantations are still a few years away from producing harvestable truffles, Matt and his dog are busy tracking down the precious fungus for other farmers.
‘Some farmers bring their dog to us for training, and we have our own dog, Conan, who heads out with me as a hired truffle hunter during winter,’ he said.
‘I take Conan through a row of trees in a commercial truffiere, he smells the ground and, if he smells truffles, he shows me that we need to dig.’
Matt said local chefs and home cooks are keen purchasers of truffles, and an export market is also opening up.
‘Currently there is strong direct demand from Asia for truffles grown on the Southern and Darling Downs, and that’s supported by a weekly flight from Wellcamp Airport at Toowoomba to Hong Kong,’ he said.
‘Growers are starting to talk about the need for a co-op to be established to coordinate the cost-effective export of large orders to Asia and Europe where price and demand are strongest.
‘I think we have exciting times ahead for Queensland’s truffle industry.’
The food and agribusiness sector is identified as one of Queensland’s traditional export strengths in the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.
You can read more about Matt and Conan’s adventures in Matt’s full interview on TIQ’s Medium homepage.