Australia’s truffle season is coming to an end, and one grower near Braidwood about an hour’s drive east of Canberra has plenty to smile about.“We've had our best season to date,” says Dick Groot Obbink, co-founder of Durran Durra truffles.“We will bring in around 12 kilograms this season despite the wet weather. And we are finding new trees that never produced truffle before.”AdvertisementHowever, flooding has impacted many growers along Australia’s east coast, dashing hopes for a record national yield of 20 tonnes.
Freshly harvested truffles Credit: SBS Rohan Dadswell“Truffles are hard to grow. For instance this season in Australia, some farms did extremely well and others did not. Heavy rain in autumn and winter caused truffles to rot underground,” says Mr Groot Obbink.Braidwood has avoided the worst of the flooding, however.“Probably a proportion of our crop is rotten, but we've still harvested more good truffle than we ever have before.”Truffles grow around the roots of trees, mainly oaks. As the fruiting body of a soil-based fungus, truffles have been added to food for centuries.“Truffle adds to the flavour, and exudes an aroma and a warm after taste,” Mr Groot Obbink says.
Dick and Virginia Groot Obbink Credit: SBS Rohan DadswellDick Groot Obbink and his wife Virginia own Durran Durra Truffles and are among 450 growers in Australia. That number has risen steadily over the past 25 years.Australia is now the world’s fourth largest truffle producer behind Spain, France and Italy, according to Noel Fitzpatrick President of the Australian Truffle Industry Association.“Almost 90 per cent of Australia’s annual harvest, around 15 tons, is exported to 60 different countries,” he says.Truffles have a short shelf life and deteriorate quickly. So most are packed within days of harvest, and flown to restaurant tables abroad.And that’s a big advantage for Australia truffle growers exporting to Asia.“Truffles have to be harvested taken out of the ground, cleaned, graded, packed, and posted all within 24 to 36 hours,” says Mr Fitzpatrick.As President of a growers co-operative, Eastern Australian Tablelands Truffle (EAT Truffle), Mr Groot Obbink is helping Australia secure new international markets, including in Asia.“We have contacts in Malaysia who are interested in our exports. And they are also talking about exporting to the Singapore market, too,” he says.
A tourist group at Durran Durra truffles Credit: SBS Rohan DadswellThe retired microbiologist enjoys leading tour groups around his orchard, explaining how truffles are grown under his 400 oak trees, bought in 2005 and already inoculated with truffle spores.“We found our first truffles in 2015. My wife Virginia heard a lot of yelling and shouting as I was jumping around with this lump of something in my hand,” he says.“It is a very good feeling to find a ripe truffle in the ground.”This week, Mr Groot Obbink’s truffle dog Bella has been hard at work, sniffing out more hidden treasures.“And she's often right. There's usually a truffle underneath where she's pawed,” he says.“Bella was a rescue dog, and she is very food centric. So it was very easy to teach her to find truffle.”
Truffle farmer Dick Groot Obbink and his rescue dog Bella Credit: SBS Rohan DadswellMr Groot Obbink gently scrapes back the soil with a spoon, revealing a golf ball sized truffle. It’s a big moment for the tour group.Yang from Singapore, who has joined the truffle hunt while visiting family in Canberra, watches with keen interest.“It is the first time I am seeing truffles in the wild, so it is really an amazing experience,” Yang says. “And it is interesting to see how food is produced at the source for the table.”Mr Groot Obbink passes the soil covered truffle around the group to smell. An earthy aroma indicates the fungus is ripe and ready to eat.”It is quite exciting because in Canberra we don’t get a lot of truffles and they are expensive,” says Keira Parker 11, from the Canberra suburb of Lawson.
Keria Parker, 11, from Canberra Credit: SBS Rohan Dadswell“Finding truffles is basically a new venture for our visitors. Many people don't know much about how truffles are detected,” Mr Groot Obbink says.Born in the Netherlands at the end of world war two, Mr Groot Obbink migrated to Australia with his family as a child. He later qualified as a microbiologist, working as a senior scientist for many years at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.After retiring in 2004, he and his wife Virginia moved to the cattle property in Braidwood. The following year, the couple turned a parcel of land into a truffle orchard.Durran Durra Truffles takes tourist groups on truffle hunts during the season from June to August. After the hunt, visitors are able to warm up near a pot belly stove and sample different dishes flavoured with the fresh truffles.“We are trying to educate as many people as possible,” he says.
Dick Groot Obbink at Durra Durra Truffles Credit: SBS Rohan DadswellWhile the highly prized Black Perigord truffles can fetch $3,000 per kilogram on the international retail market, cultivation is neither easy nor cheap.The Durran Durra orchard has so far cost the couple $100,000 mostly for planting and irrigating 400 oak trees. And financial returns are not guaranteed.“This is no a get rich quick scheme. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome,” he says.
“But if people set up a truffle orchard and successfully grow truffles and link into a good marketing arrangement, then it can be a very rewarding experience.”