Vicki Ravlich-Horan, editor of Nourish magazine, explores the delights of winter truffle hunting.
Like those enjoying a dip in the ocean, as the weather cools the number of visitors to the Bay of Plenty dwindles to a hardy few. But could our region offer a treasure just waiting to be unearthed? Truffles, not the chocolate variety, but the prized fungi that makes chefs and gourmands swoon, are a growing industry in New Zealand and the BOP is at the heart of this.
Between Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki, Ohiwa Black Diamonds have been producing truffles for nearly two decades. The truffière, now owned by Annette Munday and Matiu Hudson, was originally an experiment by MPI’s predecessor Crop and Food and one of New Zealand’s first truffière. What Ohiwa proved was the region’s unique microclimate and volcanic soils were perfect for producing truffles.
Along with making a range of truffle products, selling fresh truffles and offering tours, Annette and Matiu also help others keen to plant their own truffière. The Bay now boasts several producing truffière which means each winter (from late May to late July) there are more and more beautiful black diamonds to savour.
Maureen and Colin Binns’ half hectare truffière in Te Puke was planted in 212 oak and hazelnut trees ‘infected’ with Black Périgord spores in October 2008 and they have been happily harvesting the black gems since 2015.
While closer to Kawarau, the Treloar’s (who are part of NZ Winter Truffles Co-op) planted the beginning of their truffière in 2003 but it wasn’t until 2016 that they found their first elusive truffle. This is definitely not a cash crop, but the Treloar’s hope it’s a case of ‘good things come to those who wait’.
And if the region has been waiting for a great food story this is it, says Stacey Jones from Kitchen Takeover. While creating unique food experiences in the Bay, Stacey has also been working behind the scenes with Tourism Bay of Plenty to highlight the region’s food stories and a few years ago unearthed truffles.
“When I walked onto the truffle farm in 2020, I knew this experience had to be shared. As a passionate foodie and champion of our region, I believe Te Puke’s truffles have the potential to become a destination food experience for culinary travellers the world over.”
Stacey joined forces with Maureen and Colin at Te Puke Truffles to offer the unique experience of a truffle hunt. Guests get to watch as Jed the truffle hunting dog sniffs out a truffle before discovering how to best enjoy them.
One such truffle hunting novice, Mandy Jarvis remarked on the experience: “Who knew this was on our doorstep.” Who indeed! With the truffle harvest mushrooming each year, eateries and locals need to start revelling in the treat that is truffle season.
Owners of The Trading Post in Paengaroa, Jordan Baudeche and Nina Vergnes, are originally from France. Nina says, “I am not a truffle expert but my family has a small truffière back in France and I honestly believe that the Périgord Truffle from the Bay is as good as the French.”
Last year the pair offered customers a chance to try fresh local black truffle dishes as well as a truffle degustation. “We always had the idea to offer a farm to table experience and so a truffière right here in the village was the perfect opportunity. The interest from customers or potential customers is huge,” says Nina. Expect more of the same this year along with the addition of lunches for those truffle hunters.
Nina and Jordan are not alone in seeing the potential for truffles to provide their customers with a wonderful food experience. Some of the region’s top eateries (Clarence, Solera, Somersets Cottage, Fife Lane, to name a few) have all taken to this treasured mushroom. And while these chefs can create out of this world creations, the beauty of a truffle is its ability to elevate the simplest of foods, from scrambled eggs to a creamy pasta, truffle butter on steak or with mushrooms on toast.
So this winter, uncover what all the fuss is over this elusive fungus and head out on your own truffle hunt, be it on a truffière or a local eatery.
Te Puke Truffle Hunt and The Trading Post truffle lunch every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 3rd June to 31st July. See here for more.
The Trading Post Truffle Degustation Dinners – Fri 10–Sat 11 June, Fri 1 July–Sat 2 Jul
Ohiwa Black Diamond Truffle Hunts from Saturday 4 June to Saturday August 13
Used with permission from Nourish magazine