Matangi Truffles & Tourism
Truffle tourism is being developed in Waikato.
Waikato couple Byron and Dianne Arnold, have taken over the truffle growing enterprise started by Byron’s mother and stepfather. Their Matangi Truffles truffière and visitor accommodation is located near Hamilton – and creating great excitement amongst fans of this rather unglamorous looking but highly flavoursome fungus.
Byron Arnold casts his eyes skywards examining the fulsome canopy of holly oaks planted 16 years ago and ruefully comments there is plenty of pruning that still needs to be done. He adds, ‘’We’re in the business of growing truffles, not trees”. The ideal truffle tree is spindly, Byron says, where there is plenty of light underneath and the emphasis is on the roots that are inoculated with a fungus to produce the truffle – in this case with Tuber melanosporum, to produce the highly prized Périgord black truffle, also known as the French black truffle.
He and wife Dianne took over Matangi Truffles from his mother and stepfather in April 2022. With only a handful of the 146 trees in their truffière currently producing, the focus now is on ensuring the best conditions to get the trees producing truffles, with the result there is plenty of graft pruning, mulching, feeding – and researching and consulting the likes of the New Zealand Truffle Growers Association.
There is great optimism about a bright truffle future, following the first harvest under their management in 2022, when they unearthed six kilos of dark brown highly aromatic truffles.
Although only two kilos of the delicacy ended up being graded as edible, the rejected truffles were not wasted. They were ground into a nutritious slurry along with other ingredients and put back around the tree roots to feed and encourage more truffles in future seasons.
The Arnolds’ excitement about their truffle enterprise is shared by local foodies passionate about truffles which, although rather ordinary in appearance, are deliciously flavoursome. Alerted to the harvest on social media, and despite the Covid-related restrictions in place at the time, they willingly lined up a metre or so apart along Byron and Dianne’s driveway to personally collect a few nubs of this treasure.
Now everyone (including chefs in nearby Hamilton and further away in Auckland) is eagerly anticipating the 2023 harvest that gets underway at the end of May and runs through until the first week of August.
The fruiting body of a particular group of fungi, truffles have been grown in New Zealand since the early 1990s, with market prices for the Périgord black variety ranging from $2,000 to $3,500 per kilo.
Dianne says as truffles really should be eaten within a week of being harvested, their aim is to continue to focus on the local and Auckland area markets to ensure a premium fresh product.
She has appointed herself part-time truffle recipe developer, creating imaginative dishes including desserts such as the truffle infused mascarpone and poached pear that pleased dinner guests during last year’s harvest. Another simple but popular approach is to blend a little truffle with butter, taking any dish using butter, including an everyday piece of toast, to new heights.
Dianne also has plans to offer truffle eggs for sale – fresh eggs infused with truffle flavour. These are created by placing eggs into an airtight container with a small truffle for a few days. “The eggshell is permeable, so the flavour penetrates the shell quite readily,” she says.
The eggs will be supplied by some newly acquired chickens now living on the property. Dianne recently became the proud owner of six heritage hens – two black Orpingtons and four double laced Barnevelders – having eschewed higher laying commercial varieties in favour of traditional breeds. The chooks, whose job description is to look beautiful while producing a reasonable number of eggs, have a luxury apartment-style hen house custom-made by Byron. It is designed to not only keep them in style but also accommodate his 1.9m height when he collects the eggs.
They are living the dream, says Byron of the birds as they are allowed free range in the truffière, although restricted from March when the truffles start forming below the surface of the soil until the end of harvest in early August. “The truffles are about five centimetres down and we wouldn’t want them to damage any as they scratch around looking for insects.”
As to the business of detecting the truffles, Dianne has proven herself to have not only a good eye for seeing a hint of slightly raised dirt under the trees which might indicate the presence of a truffle just below the surface, but also an ultra-sensitive nose when she crouches down to investigate.
However, like many others now growing truffles around the country, the Arnolds rely on more sophisticated noses to sniff out their crop. They have linked up with New Zealand Truffle Dog Services, owned and operated by Karen Drummond who has been helping growers find their truffles for the past decade.
Karen and her dogs clock up thousands of kilometres each season calling on growers regularly to unearth truffles. She says with truffles being one of the world’s most valuable crops – known as ‘edible gold’ – using specifically trained dogs is now the most reliable and efficient way to find them, replacing the traditional use of pigs.
“Although untrained dogs might happen to sniff out a truffle, they can readily damage them or dig up truffles that are not yet mature.”
As dogs get older, they begin to lose their ability to pick up scents, Karen says, with the result that she brings new dogs in each season to ensure animals are not only fully trained but also at the peak of their scenting ability and physical agility. Out of season she takes her dogs to train in some of her clients’ truffières, including at Matangi Truffles, burying a truffle scented bait for them to find.
Karen says locating a truffle is just the first step. “The next is to ensure the truffle is mature and ready for harvesting, so I now also train growers to help them accurately identify mature truffles, then clean and grade them.”
At Matangi Truffles the Arnolds also offer boutique accommodation alongside their truffière. The two-bedroom cottage includes a kitchenette and is popular with visiting families and groups of friends.
Generally, guests stay for at least a couple of days with recent visitors from the United Kingdom taking up residence for nearly three months so as to enjoy the New Zealand summer while spending time with family living nearby.
Guests are invited to help themselves to fresh vegetables from the garden beds on the property and fruit in season. Also on the menu in fine weather are picnics in the truffière – featuring truffle flavours, of course.
As well as building their truffle dream, Byron and Dianne also hold down full time jobs off-property. Byron heads up product development for Blue Lab in Tauranga, a company supplying a range of electronic equipment to the hydroponics market. Dianne works closer to home in Hamilton where she is head of people and culture for the BCD Group of engineers, planners, and surveyors.
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