It's truffle season in the South West

The South West is the biggest producer of black truffles in the Southern Hempisphere.

Each year the region would normally be celebrating the season in Manjimup at the annual Truffle Kerfuffle festival, however due to COVID-19 the event was cancelled.

So the West Australian Good Food Guide came up with a series of events to support the industry and restaurants in the South West.

WA Good Food Guide editor Max Brearley was co-director of Truffle Kerfuffle from 2016 to 2018.

He was approached by WA Good Food Guide director Georgia Moore who identified an opportunity to support the truffle and restaurant industries at the same time.

"Through a combination of content and event series, we could bring together truffles and some of WA's best chefs," he said.

"It was unchartered waters, but the WA Good Food Guide is all about supporting the WA food scene, so this was our contribution to that.

"We had events in the South West at Vasse Felix, Chow's Table, Wills Domain and Cape Lodge.

"It is really nice to see the way people have gotten on board with it, people have a bit of cabin fever so it is great to see people coming out and supporting events like this.

"We have gone from this place where everything had to be cancelled, now event organisers and publishers are finding a way to come back to events and dining, it is fantastic."

Truffles are grown right throughout the South West with Manjimup being the largest producer.

The industry produces around 12 tonnes or approximately 80 per cent of black truffle production in the Southern Hemisphere.

The black truffle is prized for its rarity and aroma. They grow on the roots of oak and hazelnut trees in rich Karri loam soil, plentiful rain, and a cool climate.

While roots are inoculated, it can take around eight to the years to see a first yield.

Highly trained dogs can sniff out whether a truffle is under-ripe, ripe or rotten.

Australian Truffle Traders owner Mel Booth has been in the industry for the past 14 years.

Her family-owned business collects and pools truffles from South West farmers who would not produce enough quantity to go out into the marketplace on their own.

Australian Truffle Traders then distribute truffles throughout the world and Australia.

A former customs officer, Ms Booth has been training dogs to search for truffles since the early years of Australia's truffle industry.

She now hunts for truffles with her dogs on 40 orchards in the South West which are located in places from Bunbury to Albany including the Margaret River region.

While COVID-19 has disrupted demand, Ms Booth said this year had been a good truffle season.

"The fruit has been a good size, good quality and good aroma, but of course the world is not as it normally is which has made exporting difficult," she said.

"Although there are flights we can use, demand is limited because the world is partly shutdown and some restaurants are not open.

"We are selling between 50 to 80 per cent of the truffles we are getting, the top quality truffles are selling but we tend to be left with the lower grade truffles.

"We are preserving and freezing those lower grade truffles so hopefully we will have a use for them throughout the off season, nothing goes to waste there is a market for that in the world."

Cape Lodge executive chef Tony Howell said the truffle events had been great and they were now holding a second one.

"It was really popular we had a waiting list of 20 people and we will also host a cooking class as well," he said.

"It is a bummer Truffle Kerfuffle did not happen this year for obvious reasons, but it will make the appetite for next year's event even hungrier."

This story It's truffle season in the South West first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.