Nature’s most mysterious vegetable, truffles have long been searched for on dark nights in secret locations. It’s only recently that agricultural science has begun to reveal the mysteries behind the small fungus famed throughout the world for its intense aroma and delicate flavour.
Hot summers and cold winters make inland NSW a truffle grower’s paradise.
Anne and Denzil Sturgiss have been growing winter black truffles on their property near Tarago since 2002.
When they downsized to a smaller property the couple was looking for a suitable crop to produce alongside a few sheep and some cattle.
“We were looking for something that would return a greater per hectare income than we were getting,” Mrs Sturgiss said. Truffles plantations take years to yield, but they are finally beginning to see the fruit of their labour.
It’s as the mornings turn frosty that the truffle harvest begins.
Trained dogs sniff out the fungus which grows near the roots of several tree species.
On Sunday members of the truffle growing community will gather to bless the dogs for their hunting.
“It’s a similar idea to the blessing of the fleet,” Mrs Sturgiss said. After the ceremony hunters and their dogs will take participants on a showcase truffle hunt
The event began as a small community event to raise money for the church, which was in dire need of repairs. It has grown into a ticketed part of the Canberra Region Truffle Festival, with around 10 specially trained dogs and their handlers taking part.
The unique ceremony will be conducted by the Right Revered Tom Frame of the Mulwaree Anglican Parish.
Reverend Frame runs the ceremony around the theme of ‘unexpected surprises’, channeling, he believes, some of the wonders of the truffle.
“Given the appearance of the truffle, they don’t look attractive, that they should be so tasty,” Reverend Frame said. “In many ways it’s a surprise that it would be dogs who can detect truffles rather than human beings.”
The partnership between man and dog is another blessing remembered.
“The dogs don’t realise what they’re doing, they don’t realise that they’re fossicking for food that we couldn’t find,” says Reverend Frame.
A spiritual experience at an epicurean event is another surprise.
“It’s a time I think for some people at least from the cities to get an experience of the countryside,” Reverend Frame said.
The Canberra Region Truffle Festival takes advantage of this regional bounty, with a range of events celebrating truffles around the region.
Tarago Truffles runs hunts each weekend, providing a hands on experience.