By Jrm

July 28,2016

Our visits to The Truffle Farm in Canberra

JRM’s Managing Director and Chef James Metcalfe was invited to The Truffle Farm by Sydney Direct Fresh Produce. A bunch of Sydney chefs all rugged up on a cold Monday morning and jumped on a bus heading towards Canberra. The Truffle Farm is based in the picturesque Manjura Valley just outside of Canberra and is the only tufferie in the world located in a capital city. Once there, they where greeted by truffle farmer and owner Jayson Mesman who showed them around the tufferie. The Truffle Farm has been  successfully been cultivating truffles since 2006 and is expecting a crop around 350kg of truffles this season. Jayson and Samson Jayson’s truffle story starts with a dog. But not just any dog a beautiful black Labrador named Samson. Samson was a rescue dog that entered Jayson’s life a decade ago. At the time Jayson was working in law enforcement in Western Australia where he was training detection dogs. He soon saw a familiar pattern in Samson and fell in love with his energetic and tiredness character.  It was really Samson that got him into truffle farming. Together they discovered their truffle hunting talent at the largest producing truffle farm in the world, (The Wine and Truffle Co) in Western Australia. Jayson however was deployed back to Canberra and shortly after decided to take up truffle framing of his own and settled in the Majura Valley. As James and the rest of the Sydney chefs got shown around the ten hectares of farmland,  Jayson describes how important the soil is in order for the truffles to be able to grow. ‘The soil needs to have a PH value of eight for the truffles to grow and in order to rectify this we added a total of 80o tons of agricultural lime to our soil’. The alkaline conditions that this creates seems to eliminate any competition from other mycorrhizal fungus that might be growing in these conditions. Maintaining the farm is a lot of work all year around. With over 3000 trees to look after you need to maintain the perfect balance in order to get a successful growth. A lot of it comes down to the climate and environment.  Ideal climate is hot summers (daily temperatures of 20 degrees ) with late summer rain, and cold winters (daily temperatures of 5 degrees. ‘You need a cold snap to for the truffles to grow’ It’s a tricky combination of starving the tree and then supplying the right amount of water for the truffle to reach its potential.  Part of the maintenance is also to make sure that the truffles don’t surface to early, and if so they will have to be covered by leaves and soil to protect them from animals and frosts. This alone is a full time job. The Truffle Farm CanberraSo how do you know you are going to have a good year? Well you don’t. To some degrees you can observe the climate and hope for the best. “There has been a lot of rain this winter,  and if carries on like this the season will be cut short” The science behind truffle farming is very complex and might take years to get your head around. Today Jayson consults to a number of farms around the country. By doing so he has gained the experience from working with a variety of climates and soils. At The Truffle Farm they work with English oak and Hazelnut trees. Although Hazelnut trees have a much more intricate root system which can make it harder to harvest,  they are known to produces a better quality truffle. IMG_5328Today Jayson is working with six truffle dogs (all rescue dogs) and three pigs. Although pigs are traditionally associated with truffle hunting, it has proven difficult to prevent them from eating their findings. Dogs are not only easier to train but can also distinguish good and “bad” truffles. The pigs however play a crucial role at the end of the season. They are then set free of the farm in search for the “left over” truffles. In this process they contribute to a very natural and organic regeneration of the truffle spores that are then spread through their manure. As the sun is setting over Majura and the cold mountain air fills the valley, James and the other chefs are lead into the  “truffle shed” and sat down along communal tables. Here they are served an extravagant 6 course degustation menu prepared by the farms very own award winning chef Damien Brabender. This is the type of events that is put on by The Truffle Farm during the high season and can be experienced by anyone that is interested. In fact, there are a number of options to choose from. For example you can join in on a morning truffle hunt with Samson and the other dogs and then head back to the farm house for a warm breakfast or alternatively  you can visit the farm for degustation truffle dinner. To find out more about the The Truffle Farm and thier events click here.   Pictures above are provided by The Truffle Farm.