It's been four years since Fiona Johnson and John McSweeney planted 800 truffle-infected trees in the Wairarapa. And it could be another four years before they begin producing.

"It's definitely a waiting game," says Johnson, New Zealand Truffle Association secretary.

Between seven to 10 years is normal, but some growers have waited 18 years for their first fruits. Mysteriously, some trees will never produce a single sample.

Technically, the truffle is the fruiting body of ectomycorrhizal fungi that live on or around the roots of certain trees, including oaks and hazelnuts.


Why put your trust in a truffle?

"There's a certain sense of mystique," says Johnson. "There's a lot of romanticism with the truffle and the foods associated with it."

At The Grill last Auckland Restaurant Month, truffles were paired with gold leaf-coated quail's egg. Wellington on a Plate events included a bubbles, truffles and caviar evening at Logan Brown.

Truffles are traditionally shaved to maximise the surface area that releases the signature pungent, earthy odour. Johnson reckons they make most foods taste better.

"I recently had a salmon quiche with it shaved on the top and it was just divine. Actually we had it on a mesclun salad too . . . "

New Zealand's truffle industry started in 1987 and there are now an estimated 300 growers here. Johnson says as production has increased, prices have dropped - from a high of about $4000/kg to about $3000/kg today.

"Just a couple of grams will make an amazing difference to any meal," says Johnson. "Worth splashing out!"