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In Conversation with Slow Food Farmers’ Market’s Noel Fitzpatrick, of Black Truffle Harvest

We speak to Black Truffle Harvest’s Noel Fitzpatrick about his much sought-after product. From farming the ‘black diamond’ to creating one of his favourite dishes, we find out why truffles are unlike any other ingredient in the kitchen.

You sell Black Perigord truffles at the Slow Food Farmers’ Market during the winter. Tell us about the variety and some of its defining characteristics.

Known as the Black Diamond of the kitchen, this extraordinary truffle species has an incredible influence on simple foods such as pasta, rice, eggs, potato, cheese and other dairy products – and the good news is that it’s very easy to cook with.

How long is the truffle season?

The season is very short, only running from late June until late August. We only get to attend the Slow Food Farmers’ Market three times – late June, late July and late August.

Speaking of slow food, how long does it take for a truffle to grow to a harvestable size?

A newly planted farm will generally begin production in year four or five. The first crop is small but develops exponentially each year.

Where are your truffles harvested? Does Black Truffle Harvest have its own property for growing them, or do you find them wild?

We don’t have wild truffles in Australia, so all are farmed. Our black truffle farm is in Jumbunna in southwest Gippsland, 90 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.

What’s needed to create a truffle – the right soil and the right tree?

Definitely. The right soil on the right site in the right environment is non-negotiable. Well-inoculated trees are also a must. Growing truffles is quite complex and so education prior to starting a project is critical.

In Europe it was once common to use pigs for sniffing out truffles, now working dogs are being put to the task. What are the advantages to working with man’s best friend?

The main issue with using pigs is that they eat truffles! Dogs are easy to train, very accurate and happy to work with you on the harvest project for a small reward of praise or a favourite treat.

Is it difficult to train a dog to find truffles?

Not really, it’s similar to training a dog for any other purpose. It requires a little perseverance and some fresh truffle for training.

What’s your favourite truffle dish?

The simpler the better! Making a creamy pasta sauce then shaving truffle into the pan just before turning your cooked fresh pasta through is amazing.

Despite their growing popularity among home cooks, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the not so humble truffle. It’s an ingredient that can be a little intimidating. How do you recommend first-timers cook with them?

Simplicity is the key! Check out the recipes on our website and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to create a memorable truffle dish.

Do you find market days a good way to get in touch with new customers and first-time truffle eaters?

Absolutely! I really enjoy teaching people how to make their first truffle experience a good one. If they are already devotees, I enjoy hearing about their favourite truffle dish.

Supposedly the aroma of the black truffle can be quite powerful. I’m guessing a little goes a long way?

Yes, you only need around five grams per person per main. This also makes truffle very reasonable to cook with at home at only $12 per plate.

Why are truffles so expensive?

Truffles are not actually expensive to use, as described in the previous answer. They are complex to grow however – farms are expensive to establish, and the truffles are labour intensive to harvest.

Can they be stored for a length of time, or do they need to be used fresh for best results?

Truffles need to be used within the first 10 days of purchase for the best culinary experience. I don’t recommend storing them for anything longer than this.

What else is happening with Black Truffle Harvest in 2017?

Very exciting news! We’ve just about finished renovating the old farm dairy into what will be our ‘truffle hunting and dining experience’ venue. We’ll also use this for our regular grower’s workshops.

The Slow Food Farmers’ Market is held at the Abbotsford Convent on the fourth Saturday of every month. Head to Gate One from 8am this weekend to get your hands on some of the best fresh produce in Melbourne, sold to you directly by the producer.