A small farm with small animals produces a mighty harvest, writes James O'Rourke.
As I bounced around on the back seat of our shuttle bus, while our driver attempted to set the new speed record on the journey from the cruise ship Sea Princess docked in the port of Burnie, to our destination, I was struck by the similarity of our surroundings to regional New Zealand. Passing through several small townships nestled in rolling green farmland with historic shop fronts and weatherboard houses, we could have easily been in Picton, Te Awamutu, Dargaville or any number of small Kiwi towns. But we weren't, we were in the north of Tasmania and on the hunt for truffles.
After winding our way up the tree-lined drive we were greeted by two of the many four-legged residents of The Truffledore, Toby and Checken, the truffle dogs. The owner, Jennifer, also gave us a warm welcome and was kind enough to take time out of the never-ending list of daily tasks that make up farm living, to give us a guided and hugely in-depth tour of her livelihood.
At only 6.5ha and with 700 English oak trees, the main focus of the farm is truffles, French black ones to be precise. It isn't often that you put Tasmania and France in the same category but in this instance there is an exception.
Located at 40 degrees south, The Truffledore is directly opposite France on the globe and therefore in prime truffle-growing territory. So perfect is its location that Jennifer exports the majority of her product (fresh, not frozen) to France in their off-season and for a tidy sum.
An average season at The Truffledore will yield around 250kg of the black nuggets and at $2000 a kg, Jennifer doesn't need to buy a lot of two-minute noodles. Toby and Checken have been trained by Jennifer to hunt out the truffle and it appears are very good at their jobs (as long as there are several treats at the end of their working day).
As good as those harvest numbers are, being in the truffle business isn't an easy game.
At the minimum it takes around five years for the truffles to grow from babies to black gold. Truffles are a long-term investment and one that needs constant affection and attention. Each tree is inoculated by hand, truffle spores are pasted by hand on to the baby plants and then left to germinate. Even after doing all this to her 700 trees, there is no guarantee that Jennifer will see a solid return on her investment. "Truffles need time, patience and a bit of luck helps too", she says.
Some truffles will spoil and be no good for sale (the perfect truffle is golfball size with no blemishes), so they are kept to be used as spores or used again for the next round of inoculation.
This is where Jennifer really shines as a farmer and as a businesswoman. Nothing on her farm is wasted, everything is put to use. Due to her main product's season being only a few months long (June to August), Jennifer is constantly diversifying and expanding the use of her farm. While her truffles are growing big and strong Jennifer is kept busy tending to her fruit orchard, making and selling her own brandy, and collectings eggs from her brood of Silkie chickens that roam the property. She also keeps a few cows (Buttercup, Roberta, Robbie), a couple of wary sheep, and even miniature ponies (Larry and Harry) rocking fashionable blunt fringes.
Not only is The Truffledore a successful business run by a smart and forward-thinking farmer, it is a place of simple serenity and natural beauty, where on a sunny day you can spot Mt Roland looming in the distance.
It is a business and home that Jennifer is hugely passionate about and very proud of.
"It works because it is small enough for me to manage alone and I intend to be here for a while."
If you want to experience a truly unique Tasmanian way of life, meet an inspiring Tasmanian local and spend some time in a beautiful pocket of Tasmania, take a trip to The Truffledore.
Burnie is one of the ports of call on
' 7-day cruise from Sydney, departing on December 16.
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