Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Truffle Hunter

Club-like roots indicate mycorrhizal infection.

Club-like roots indicate mycorrhizal infection.

By Stephen Luntz

Colin Carter is putting the production of French black truffles onto a scientific footing.

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French black truffles are one of the most expensive legal items on the planet, selling for upwards of $1800 per kilogram at the farm gate. The fungi are so fragrant that small quantities can give flavour to an entire meal, but the original supply of the truffles has collapsed. Australians are racing to fill the gap, and science is proving essential.

In 1900 the forests of France produced 1000 tonnes of truffles per year. “Now, the total harvest is down to about 50 tonnes a year,” says Colin Carter. “We went to an annual truffle auction, where hunters arrive with their truffles in little bamboo baskets, and at that auction last year there was only about 50 kilograms of truffles for sale. The year before at the same event there was 200 kilograms.”

Spain has been filling some of the gap, but there is plenty of demand for Australian product if we can ramp up production. Currently we’re at 2 tonnes per year, a drop in the ocean compared with the potential.

Carter teaches horticultural science at Swinburne TAFE. Initially his interest was in using a variety of symbiotic fungi to bolster crops, but 6 years ago he met another teacher with an enthusiasm for truffles. “We got talking and I did some reading and research and got hooked.”

Australian native truffle species are not poisonous, but they’re also not very tasty. Attempts to inoculate native...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.