By Nicky Short
Aug 10, 2021
SHAVED OVER YOUR PASTA, adorning your risotto, or elevating your eggs to a scrambled spectacular, truffles are beloved by chefs and gastro geeks the world over for their aromatic power to transform a dish into an event. Not to be confused with chocolatey balls coated in cocoa, these gnarly tubers grow underground among the roots of trees with which they share a symbiotic relationship.
They were enjoyed by civilizations as far back and far-flung as ancient Sumeria and Greece for their earthy, musky flavor and fragrance, but more recently, like their sweeter namesake, they’ve mostly been attributed to western Europe. France with its famed Périgord black truffle and Italy with its prized white treasures from Alba in Piedmont have traditionally cornered the market, suggesting there’s not—ahem—“mushroom” for wider cultivation.
But a growing cohort of farmers, aficionados and even scientists has been causing something of a stir on the international truffle stage and putting the fun in fungi in the Pacific region. Below, we’ve nosed out some totally tubular tuber tours for keen snufflers of new world mushies. And if you’re a classicist, we’ve also got a bushel of truffle hunts in ye olde Europe.
Courtesy of The Truffle Farm (2)
That’s right! Truffles can in fact be grown in the southern hemisphere; who knew? Well, brother-sister team Henry and Anna Terry at Tasmanian Truffles in Deloraine, that’s who. In the 1990s, their father Tim worked the agricultural alchemy necessary, harnessing Tassie’s famously fertile soil, to grow French black truffles among the roots of his hazelnut trees. Now visitors can join the Terry family, led by chief hunter Doug, a gorgeous golden retriever with a nose for quality, on a revelatory ramble around The Truffle Farm.
The basic tour includes the chance to unearth and sample the goods, but upgrade to the Winter Warmer package (available July to September) to snuggle around the fire pit with Tasmanian mulled wine and baked truffle brie, and take in a tasting and grading demonstration. From December to September, settle in for a post-hunt lunch instead.
Tours at The Truffle Farm start from A$110 per person.
T+L Tip: Team your tour with a stay in nearby Launceston, perhaps at Stillwater Seven, where the boutique rooms overlook the Tamar and the acclaimed resto centers on local produce.
Waipara Valley, New Zealand
Even further down under, there are yet more delights to discover an hour’s drive north of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. For a small farm, Limestone Hills packs in a lot of produce: alongside pinot noir and syrah grapes, olives and walnuts, farmers Gareth and Camille Renowden cultivate four gourmet truffle types including the coveted French Périgord.
Group hunts begin at the farmhouse and proceed through the gardens, led by the sensitive snout of Rosie the beagle, to two of the smaller truffieres, where Rosie sniffs out spring whites (May to September) or summer blacks (January to March). Along the way, Gareth explains how the limestone soil and warm climate combine delightfully for tuber triumph. The Renowdens recommend topping off the hunt with lunch at nearby Black Estate Winery, which often features the goods in their dishes.
Demand for luxurious Euro-style products grows apace in Asia and China’s got the goods. The forested Himalayan foothills in Yunnan and Sichuan are teeming with Tuber Indicum—a mild black truffle distantly related to the French Périgord. Some are shipped to ritzy city restaurants in Shanghai and even to Europe, where gastronomes, chefs and dealers worry about the milder Chinese variety being passed off as its much more expensive French cousin.
Those found around Shaxi in Yunnan, though, are only cultivated by and for the locals. At Old Theatre Inn in the north of town, chef Duan Jipin serves up the homemade dishes of her Bai culture with regional ingredients—and her husband, Mr. Wu, knows where to find them. Starting early, he guides guests on a hike past a Confucian temple and a Buddhist shrine, to sip fresh water from the mountain stream and delve into the oak groves around tiny village Mapingguan. Using local techniques, guests help Mr. Wu unearth the ruffle-shelled tubers, to take back and enjoy at the guesthouse, Bai style. Pro tips: stay during truffle season, from September to October and over a Friday to experience market day in Shaxi, where Yi tribal people come to sell the exotic mushrooms that grow in the surrounding mountains.
At Old Theatre Inn, Mr. Wu’s truffle hunts start at RMB300 per person including lunch and transportation; rooms start at RMB480 in low season and RMB560 in high season.
Northern Thailand (coming soon?)
In Thailand’s mountainous north, researchers from Chiang Mai University have unearthed white truffles that match the DNA of Italy’s prized Tuber Magnatum, as well as two new species among the roots of birch trees in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Tuber Thailanddicum, as it has been dubbed, is white and mild, while the so-called Tuber Lannaense is brown with a light center. For now, they remain in the university labs, but who knows? The hope is that locally grown Thai truffles might soon be gracing our plates in Bangkok and beyond.
Courtesy of Relais San Maurizio (4)
Where better to circle back to the old world than the home of the most expensive truffle in the world—Tartufo Bianco d’Alba (Tuber Magnatum)? Set atop the rolling hills of Langhe in Piedmont, Relais San Maurizio is all about heritage, from the 17th-century monastery rooms to the local heirloom produce plated up at their in-house Michelin-starred Guido da Costigliole. In autumn, a.k.a. truffle season, guests can join the experienced “trifulaos” (truffle seekers) of Langhe and their discerning dogs to rootle among the roots in the forests of nearby Alba and sniff out those local white treasures. (Fun fact: pigs were traditionally used for truffle snuffling but proved too partial to the pungent fungi and have largely been replaced by well-trained and much more restrained pooches.)
Back at San Maurizo, triumphant hunters can explore the uses of their uber-tubers in a cooking class with chef Romeo, who reveals the secrets of cleaning and pairing the precious ingredient, or as part of a signature spa treatment. The “Truffle Cuddle” experience harnesses white truffles’ vitamins and antioxidant properties for an anti-aging facial unlike any other.
Relais San Maurizio room rates start from €300 per night, or €450 per night in white truffle season (October to early December).
Courtesy of Manoir De Malagorse (2)
In France, all eyes are on the winter black truffle, a.k.a. the Périgord (Tuber Melanosporum). Stay at Manoir De Malagorse in the Dordogne Valley during the second weekend of December to experience a fête de village as the local community celebrates the start of the “black diamond” season. Owners Anna and Abel, who have lovingly restored the 19th-century manor, organize personalized truffle tours for interested guests. They’ll whisk you down to Lalbenque for the biggest marché aux truffes in the region, to witness the arcane rituals surrounding black diamond trading, or over to a nearby truffle farm.
At La Ferme De La Truffe, growers Serge and Delphine explain the complexities of melanosporum cultivation as Rosabelle the trusty dog sniffs them out. Experience the complexities of their flavor and aroma on the farm or back at the Manoir, where aperitifs around the firepit feature Anna and Abel’s famous tartine de foie gras aux truffes—a rustic slice of bread, smeared with foie gras, topped with finely sliced truffles and served with a lamb’s tongue salad.
Stays at Manoir de Malagorse start at €130 per person per night.
Courtesy of Grand Forest Metsovo (2)
Moussaka, taramasalata … truffles? At Grand Forest Metsovo, guests discover Greece’s lesser-known gastronomic gems. Atop a private mountain in the rugged northwestern region of Epirus, the alpine retreat sits on the fringe of a black-pine forest and places guests in the care of truffle expert Katerina Nola to delve deep into the woody wonderland. Accompanied by her homing-missile hounds, Katerina reveals hunting techniques, truffle-friendly-tree spotting tips and intel on what grows when. (From white spring truffles (Tuber Borchii) in January through to April, to those aforementioned precious Italian whites in October and November, all manner of varieties grow here throughout the year—sorry, sticklers.)
A successful search leads to a riverside garden complete with an outdoor kitchen, where guests can swim, lounge in hammocks sipping homemade liquor, or learn a tuber-prepping tip or two, before an alfresco feast.
Grand Forest Metsovo rates range from €130 to €700, depending on the room and the season.
Courtesy of Luxury Slovenia (2)
Year-round truffle hunting is also available on the Adriatic peninsula shared by Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, and the experts at Luxury Slovenia have the inside scoop on the finest pickings on their patch. They whisk guests deep into Slovenian Istrian hinterland and the capable hands of truffle hunter Leo Pjevovic in picturesque Padna to find the season’s offerings—black summer truffles (Tuber Aestivum) from April to October, followed by those oh-so prestigious white truffles until December.
Back at Leo’s estate, which conveniently includes a restaurant specializing in Istrian cuisine, guests are treated to a truffle-centered degustation menu paired with local wine. After a busy day of snuffling, sampling and quaffing, Team Luxury Slovenia recommends a stay at Kempinski Palace Portoroz on the Slovenian Riviera.
Luxury Slovenia customized package rates for truffle hunting, tasting, a private car with driver and one night in the Kempinski Palace start from €790 for two guests.