A mile in the shoes of a truffle farmer
The sun is still lifting the night’s frost from the grass as they venture into the orchard with truffle hound Cody to start their hunt. Two-year-old Cody has the boundless energy – and short attention span – of a pup, but the Tasmanian Smithfield cross has known how to sniff out the precious fungi since he was two months old.
Former marine biologist Ina and paramedic Timothy decamped to this idyllic property in Lower Barrington from Brisbane in 2019, craving a treechange. With no truffle-farming experience, they were initially just looking for land where they could start a bed and breakfast, raise animals and grow some crops. But after a tough day at their respective jobs, the real estate listing for The Truffledore and its 135-year-old farmhouse popped up and that was that. “We said, ‘It can’t be that hard, right?’ Famous last words,” Ina laughs.
It’s been a steep learning curve – truffle farming, she explains, is still a young industry and involves a lot of trial and error. But the gamble paid off in their very first winter.
“It was very exciting to actually see the first truffle in the ground and smell it. That was the best part, probably, smelling it,” Ina says.
“Smelling a truffle fresh out of the ground is like no other smell you’ve ever smelt before.”
Today, they sell their truffles at an on-site seasonal farm gate, as well as to local chefs and mainland ‘truffle brokers’. Outside harvest season, the pair are kept busy by their farm stay and tastings using homemade products such as truffle oil and truffle salt. But winter is what it’s all about.
“It’s a very exciting place to be during truffle season,” Ina says. “I think it’s a little bit like Christmas every morning, because we don’t really know what we are going to find on that particular day.”
Back on the farm, inspection of the morning’s haul is paused to welcome guests on the harvest tour. Fortified with mulled wine beside The Truffledore’s fireplace, the small group join Ina and Cody for the final hour of their weekly hunt as Tim ducks into the kitchen to prepare the four-course lunch that awaits them.
For harvesters, it is a chance to taste one of the culinary world’s most expensive ingredients, the Black Winter (Perigord) truffle, fresh from the soil. The crop might be high-end, but Ina and Timothy want to share how accessible truffles can be.
“We try to show people that you don’t need to be a Michelin-starred chef to cook with truffle. You can use it in your own home cooking and enjoy it,” Ina says. Truffle loves humble pairings, – think butter, cream, cheese; Ina favours a truffle and cheese omelette, Timothy a steak with truffle butter.
By the time the last guests have devoured their truffle-infused lunch, and every unearthed truffle has been cleaned, stored or couriered to expectant buyers, twilight is gathering. It’s a long day, but Ina wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The work never stops, but it’s extremely rewarding when you’re working for yourself and see what you achieve every day,” she says. “It’s a very lovely lifestyle.”