Opinion | Travelling a trifle for truffles

A weekend of six-hour drives is not normally my cup of tea, but when I have the chance to bring back fresh truffles for the table, meet with mycologists and foresters from across the world, a two-day round trip to Braidwood is quite in order. 

The French Perigords have been distributed to colleagues, who variously either turn up their noses at the strange malodour, or seize my hand with glee in anticipation of a culinary delight. The native truffles we uncovered in the eucalyptus forest have been photographed by experts and are being identified with studious haste by those who know far more than me. 

For the foodie, there are but two truffles: the black Perigord truffle, which is associated with oak trees, and the white Italian truffle, associated with poplar trees. But, for our small native animals, such as bettongs, bandicoots, bilbies, potoroos and gliding possums, the range of truffles they eat is much wider. Mycologists believe there could be up to 1500 species of native truffle, living in association with trees and shrubs, in just about every kind of habitat from rainforest to mallee scrub. However, as yet, no Australian truffle is seen as coming near the culinary delicacy of the European truffle

These beneficial truffle fungi form intimate associations with the roots of plants and provide the plant with nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients from the soil. In return, the plant provides the fungus with sugars.  Vigorous plant growth without the need for fertiliser is due to these fungi.

Why the animal involvement? So that when the truffle is eaten, its spores can be spread about the forest via the droppings/scat/faeces. In Europe, the wild boar sniffs out and devours the king of the truffles, the black Perigord, so propagating the fungus across the forest.

Professor Tim Roberts is director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, University of Newcastle