ACT News

Truffle season preparation well under way ahead of first weekend of hunting

Two truffle-hunting pigs have been introduced to the French Black Truffle farm of Canberra in a throwback to European hunting techniques.

Manager Jayson Mesman says the use of the pigs, named Winnie and Piglet, is a first for an Australian truffle farm. 

Sherry McArdle-English with her truffle dog Snuffle,  manager Jayson Mesman with Samson the truffle dog, and Winnie the ...
Sherry McArdle-English with her truffle dog Snuffle, manager Jayson Mesman with Samson the truffle dog, and Winnie the truffle pig. Photo: Jamila Toderas

The Wessex saddlebacks will join six scent-trained dogs in finding what Mr Mesman hopes will be more than 150 kilograms of truffles over the next 14 weeks.

If the plan comes to fruition, the farmers will be digging up the biggest haul of truffles since the trees started producing in 2007.

"This year, we're seeing more truffles growing out of the ground," Mr Mesman said.

"It just says to us that we are going to have a stronger season than ever before, and that's what we're looking for.

"Every year we're hoping to double in size."

Last year, the farm in the foothills of Mount Majura produced 65 kilograms of the black gold, which sells for up to $3000 a kilogram.

However, part of the preparation for the season is to cover any truffle growing out of the ground, to protect it from birds, bugs or frost.

"If they pop out of the ground, they can be potentially damaged, so we're covering them back over. That's a daily job for us, with 2500 trees to check," Mr Mesman said.

Preparation has also included digging lime into the soil, as truffles need it for growth.

"These truffles need a pH of eight, so we have put 75 tonnes of lime per hectare into the soil, and there is nine hectares."

The labour-intensive process to prepare and farm truffles is made easier with the help of the animals. Mr Mesman and farm owner Sherry McArdle-English said the dogs were an important tool of the trade, as without them the truffles couldn't be found.

Mr Mesman trained five of his own dogs, four labradors and a German shepherd, to smell out the pungency of a ripe truffle alongside Ms McArdle-English's American cocker spaniel Snuffle. 

Mr Mesman said while the pigs would be helpful towards the end of the season, to dig up the rotten and leftover truffles, they would be more of a tourist attraction in the early weeks.

"Pigs just forage for truffles naturally and dig them up, and you have to watch them and try to stop them before they eat them," she said.

"The difference with the dogs is you can teach them to scent discriminate, so there are mature, immature or rotten truffles and you can teach a dog to pick those differences."

The farm will host midweek and weekend truffle hunts to keep up with the growing tourism demand.