Bundi, top truffle tracker

Mark Bowerman Truffles of Tasmania with the veteran truffle dog Bundy

Bundi, top truffle tracker

JULY 2016 | Lorraine Clarke

ON A CRISP sunny June morning, Mark Bowerman sets off with his most experienced truffle dog, golden Labrador Bundi, to search for hidden treasure.

Mark, along with Julie Philpott, five hunters, and a team of eager dogs hunt truffles from Sundays to Wednesdays, beginning after the frost until late afternoon.

All trees are checked every week throughout the season from June till August or September.

The coveted fungus grows in secret on the roots of inoculated oak or hazelnut trees, from about December until they reach optimum size in April.

They lie dormant till the frosts ripen them and turn them black. “They can ripen overnight if there is a cold hard frost.

A tree might produce one truffle or ten kilograms,” explained Mark. Dogs can smell them as they are ripening, but truffles are only dug when the aroma is strong enough for a human to detect.

They are carefully scraped out of the soil and the dog is rewarded with a treat.

Bundi bounds about, enthusiastically revealing truffle after truffle. He is one of a team of dogs of various breeds that are used here. “I could train a chihuahua to hunt truffles, as long as it loves to retrieve a ball,” said Mark.

“So far this week, we’ve harvested a power of truffles. We sent out 21 mail orders yesterday and 2 big boxes to the airport, from two days’ harvest. We struggle to cover all our orders.”

Fresh truffles are sold all over Australia, with some international sales. Mail orders are sent Express Post, packed in ice.

The hilly 50 hectare site is one of Tasmania’s largest. Rows run north south, with trees spaced at 3 by 9 metres.

Mark collected and germinated all the acorns, and planted the first trees in 2001.

Truffles of Tasmania grows only oaks, a mix of the deciduous Quercus robur, and the evergreen Quercus ilex, which can begin producing as early as two years after planting.

The biggest truffle found so far was 735 g.

Hunters vie for annual bonuses awarded for the largest truffle of the season, and the most truffles per year.

Mark has an idea for utilising the acorns that litter the ground in the orchard every season. “I’d like to educate pig farmers to feed acorns to pigs.

In Europe, Jamón ibérico, “acorn ham,” is a prized delicacy, worth about $30.00 per slice. 20,000 trees would produce 100 tons of acorns.”

Julie spends many hours in the richly-fragrant packing room washing, grading and trimming the truffles to ensure they are of the highest quality.

An innovation is dried truffles marketed in vacuum-packed sachets that come with an elegant grinder.

The sachets last for 2 years after opening, extending the season for truffle afficionados.  Another product being developed is truffle-studded risotto packs.

“We’ve had a lot of worldwide chef feedback. Tasmania produces some of the best truffles because of our climate, with excellent size, shape and presentation.”

Mike Moores