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Barcelona Truffle Tour notes January 2016

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Tour Notes January - February 2016
DRY?
Call that paddock of yours a truffière? Now this is a truffière -Finca El Olmar, Manzanera, Teruel. Catalonia.
T
here...
wild harvesting, there is still not a truffle
eating tradition there.
This means that most of the product is
exported. In ...
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Barcelona Truffle Tour notes January 2016

  1. 1. Tour Notes January - February 2016
  2. 2. DRY? Call that paddock of yours a truffière? Now this is a truffière -Finca El Olmar, Manzanera, Teruel. Catalonia. T here’s a select group of Aus- tralian growers who first met Marcos Morcillo when he was an official guest at the 2014 ATGA Conference in Launceston. His talk was called Paradigm shifts in growing truffles, and the slide pre- sentation is on your members web- site. (Without the audio it isn’t easy to follow). And some of you may have seen his just as disruptive ‘10 tips for growing truffles’ Skype video session at Truffle Melbourne Festival last year. He is a co-partner of Micologia Forestal & Aplicada (MF&A) a private research centre specialising in truffles and mushrooms, and he and his colleagues work closely with the Research Insti- tute of Agronomic Technology (IRTA). He wrote his first book on truffle grow- ing for the Spanish Government, and you’ll have seen news of the release of his latest book Truffle Farming Today. He knows what he’s talking about, he consults around the world and gener- ously shares all of that information in his book and on his English and Spanish language blogs. As we quickly found, it’s not his nature to make pronounce- ments about how best to do some- thing. Knowing about the variability of the growing process he always says, “This is what we believe is the best way now” and with a grin, ”ask me again next week”. His success has made him a magnet for information and he is very aware of what is changing quickly with new re- search and practical results. As research for the GROW wiki project, Jan and I took the opportunity to join his tour with a group of 16 growers or po- tential growers from eight countries, in- cluding Bulgaria, Mexico, Chile, and Aus- tralia in January. We went to learn about that latest research Marcos and his colleagues have conducted, visit truf- fle growers, distributors and processors to see what he believes are best-prac- tice operations in Spain. Our task now is to extract what we believe was rele- vant for Australian growers and these notes (and the videos to follow) is the first result. I’ve shared this with Marcos to ensure we are reporting accurately. When we arrived, we discovered that it had been a bad season for truffle in Spain, with above-average winter tem- peratures and no rain for more than 100 days. While truffles were still being har- vested, yields were down and the truffle was coming exclusively from the irrigat- ed plantations – hunters were finding no wild truffle at all, predicting the season would finish early. That also meant that as tourists we had great sunny weather. We did see a lot of truffle however. The average annual output of Spain is 40 tonnes, compared to Australia’s best guess at 8 tonnes. Spain is second only to France in the production of tuber mel- anosporum, although after centuries of Marcos asked how long I had had my truffière, and when I said “I’m not a grower, I’m just a groupie” he replied “Great. That makes it easy. If you want to start now, with what we know, I could really help you grow truffles”. FREDHARDEN&JANO’CONNELL Happyastwopigsinmycorrhiza
  3. 3. wild harvesting, there is still not a truffle eating tradition there. This means that most of the product is exported. In contrast to Australia, their exportmarketsarejustafew hoursaway. There were small ‘Trufa for sale’ signs in deli windows but we only saw fresh truffle on sale in the retail markets in Barcelona and Teruel, the price was €1000 (approx. $AUD 1500) a kilo. Caldes de Montbui The tour began at Caldes de Montbui in the hills near Barcelona. At an evening briefing session participants introduced themselves and were presented with their workbooks and an impressive, dag- ger-like implement – the only approved tool for digging truffle in Spain. (It was alsowell suited forthe soiltypeswe saw.) addition of spore-containing sub- strates via ‘Spanish wells’ holes or in ripped furrows. The idea that you will have to constantly monitor the growth of mycorrhiza over the life of your plantation caused some re-eval- uation by the growers present. Knowing the soporific effect of Pow- erPoint in a warm room with an open fire, the lecture sessions were inten- sive, then followed by practical visits. A tour of the nursery greenhouses and experimental plots, and then with visits to truffle traders and processors. And somehow always finding time for a good lunch. For Jan and I, the trader visits were a highlight, giving a context to the European truffle business that look- ing at a foreign website can never do. The Spanish traders buy from both wild hunters and growers, regularly travel- ling all over Spain to do collections, of- ten in local bars. This was the way truf- fles had traditionally been bought and the dealer would be presented with a basket of unwashed truffle (often con- taining stones). It is only recently that daily prices have been determined by the quality of individual truffles and the demand. There are still markets where you can buy truffle, often sight unseen, for cash at that week’s going rate. One of the biggest traders, Laumont, was instrumental in setting up a more manageable system that required sell- ers to trust the company’s grading judgement (there was always some conversation on arrival) and guaran- teed them payment within days after the truffle was cleaned and graded. Each grower was supplied with a de- tailed spreadsheet showing weight, the percentage of dirt and the percentage of each grade of truffle with the going rates that day for each. They shared some of their real world spreadsheets. While hard for them to introduce, they now have a 300+ suppliers and the practice has been accepted by even conservative traditional wild hunters. The only difference I saw in the grad- ing process, compared with our grading truffles here, was purely the emphasis on size. We were allowed to sniff and examine some trays of truffle, checking blackness from the nicks and said, ‘yes a great truffle AND I agree it’s pretty’. Our discussion (at the last ATGA Conference for example) as to what constitutes a premium grade truffle differs slightly because we have very different expec- tations as our small growers enter the market. “I’ve got a 500 gram premium truffle, it’s a bit lumpy but smells ter- rific, why isn’t it considered A-grade?” For the European market if it’s not small (golfball to tennis ball) and round-ish, it doesn’t make that top price. It is usually cut or broken and sold not as fresh pre- mium pieces but for canning. The Truffle & Wine Co. said that fresh pieces are a growing part of their local and export market. Cheap- er than whole truffle, being just as good in aroma and ripeness it is preferred by many of our chefs. Do I look like a terrorist? There were subsequently some misun- derstandings with the Spanish Rail- ways about my gift. Understandably touchy about terrorist attacks, the X-ray scan clearly showed a huge broad bladed knife in my suitcase. It had gone through two early scans, probably on edge and mixed with my tripod gear so I was surprised when I was asked to open the bag. The staff recoiled in disbelief as I brandished it, and even explaining it was a government approved ag- ricultural tool for digging the trufa didn’t help. When I said I was go- ing to Barcelona, they shook their heads and confiscated it, trying to supress their grins. The tour group in front of the IRTA in Torre Marimon, a tastefully restored period building. The first two mornings of the trip con- sisted of classroom sessions at the Cat- alan Government owned Research In- stitute of Agronomic Technology (IRTA). There were discussions on truffle ecol- ogy, soils, feeding behaviour and a lot of time was spent on the necessity to understand and ensure the persistence of the two mating types during the pro- ductive life of the truffière. The research has showed how that changes over time and some trees become dominant in one type only. They have good brulees but with no chance of growing a truffle. The other research of growing impor- tance is the understanding that it is soil bacteria that contributes much to the unique truffle aroma and good soil structure is essential. One thing that quickly became clear was the dynamic and ongoing nature of the Spanish/Catalan research. The answers to a lot of our questions were “we’re working on it” or “we’ve planted to test that and we’ll know definitively in five years or so”. Nonetheless, Marcos and his IRTA colleagues summarised the latest science and presented ex- amples of successful practices includ- ing soil preparation, irrigation meth- ods and the growing importance of the Truffle trading The mushroom and truffle stall at the Barcelona La Boqueria Market The extensive greenhouses of the IRTA Manjares de la tierra owners Maria Jesus , Lola and Mercedes What was apparent as we visited the traders was how viability of the local industry is boosted by the ability of the traders to offer processing. Broken or insect damaged premium truffle as well as lesser grade truffle is canned, juiced, frozen or dried. These products, depending on whether they’re first, sec- ond or even third boiling, are all clearly marked, (a legal requirement) are sold to chefs or used by industry in a range of packaged goods. They all mentioned the concern for food safety by the chefs and corporate buyers (big hotel groups) as reason to purchase the tinned product. One of the successful traders we visited, Manjares de la tierra, had a nice story. They have become active value-added producers and is run by a group of three woman, wives of local truffle producers. They could see that their truffle they were selling for a lower price for ‘pro- cessing’ was then given a higher value by value-adding. So they decided to cut out the middle men. They produce a range of jars and small tinned truffle products with combinations that I’ve never seen on shelves here. Pastes with mushrooms, summer truf- fle (not black) and duck foie gras, vac- uum packed risotto rice with dried truf- fle slices. We were given a ‘show bag’ of items (thank you) and have tasted our way through them (Yes, declaring them to disinterested customs officers on our return to Melbourne. And yes I scrubbed my shoes ma’am even if you didn’t ask). There is little chance for any bacterial contaminants when the truffle is sealed in a tin and autoclaved.The standard plant container allows examination at any stages of the growth and easy planting. Perfect shape black truffle and perfect shape truf- fle vacuum packed and snap frozen ( -16 deg )
  4. 4. Marcos said that the Spanish chefs were largely truffle agnostic. There’s a local truffle lunch special, truffled fried eggs and Jamon on this blackboard menu, it’s a dish that is apparently available each season in local bars around Teruel. Sim- ple but I didn’t get to try it. Next time. However the first full day of the lec- tures and trader visits was capped off by a late lunch – a lunch that last- ed from 3pm until 7pm. Nandu Juba- ny is a Michelin starred chef who understands truffle and demonstrat- ed this via nine amazing courses. A special truffled menu is offered as an option each winter Jan writes about that here. The mini-bus was now covering long distances. We saw the sun rise and set over foggy landscapes a couple of times. On Day 3, the group moved on to Teruel, high in the mountains west of Valencia. This area produces most of Spain’s black truffle. We’d all packed our thermal underwear, being led to expect temperatures down to -7o. We needn’t have bothered – the weath- er continued to be unseasonably mild. At the old Teruel railway station of Mora there is the largest truffle market in Spain, (it is held every Friday night in the station bar).Whilewewerethere, truffles were fetching between €350 and €600 / kilo. On Saturday 9th January in Teruel the price was between €420 and €515. Marcos explains to us on the bus, here (if you’re online). Around Teruel, we visited two success- ful truffle orchards. Here the learning ramped up with practical examples and Q&A. The largest of these covered 35 hectares and is owned by Miguel Pérez. Situated in a valley, the scale of Finca El Olmo drew gasps from inside the bus as we breasted the hill. Clearly a successful business, there where large traditional style buildings and modern machinery sheds filled with new equipment. The 50 hectare property of holm oaks has a network of Wireless remote moisture sensors and irrigation is centrally con- trolled. The best areas he says are pro- ducing 200kg a hectare, average yield is about 100kg per hectare a year. We followed one hunter around in a pad- dock near to the main buildings (setup with large function rooms for ‘wedings parties, anything’ events. Trufiturismo is big here). No warnings about com- paction from all of us stomping around, (we were considered a ‘special’ group) or bio-security, which Marcos says is the approach across Spain. “They already have all the pests and diseases” and contamination of species is common from an area that had wild truffles. They start with scrupulously washed (first by machine, then by hand) truf- fle that is pressure sealed in a large tin and cooked in an industrial autoclave pressure cooker. Truffles, having a high moisture content as you know, the re- sulting juice is considerable. Some of the truffle is removed, going into smaller tins and marketed as ‘first boiling’. The juice is also canned. A few teaspoons of water and salt is added if needed, and a second ‘boiling’ and sometimes a third is repeated. The result is tasted, the product is adjusted for consistent flavour in each tin, and then is packed into 500g, one and two kilo tins for sale. The taste consistency is taken very se- riously, blending graded truffle so that a chef opening a tin, can expect the same aroma and flavour each time. Apparent- ly some chefs prefer that cooked truffle aroma. Restaurants and ‘industry’ get the first process (in French it’s marked 1ère cuisson or ‘first boil’), second and third pressure cooking are what we’ll find on retail shelves (or from websites). One writer says “Beware. The truffle does subsequently lose a lot of aroma, but the price tag does not go down!” We were told the price for tinned prod- uct has been stable for years. Growers get €150 a kilo or less for truffle used for canning, often for what we would con- sider premium truffle pieces. However they sell all the truffle they bring in, and are paid at the different grading rates. ‘Truffle a la papillote with Brussels sprouts’ being served at Can Jubany at Calldetenes, Catalonia Bocata del dia-Daily menu Are you ready to sell your truffle for $200 a kilo? Rip first, ask questions afterward. Uniformly positive results have been gained by ripping along the rows at El Olmo, they were set er, as deep as the photo. (Top) (Below) Vibrating tillers (set to about 10cm deep) are run over the rows, as close as they can get to the trees without damage after all truffles are gathered and before pruning. This reduces weed growth. Marcos reports much improved pro- ductivity with both methods. The spread of mating types seems to be part of this, and truffle is always found along the looser soil of the rip-line. Jordi Serentill with tins of truffle ready for process The 2016 tour group with Julio Perales (with hat, black iPad in hand connected to irrigation data) and his son is the handler carrying a large knee pad, with dog. Has anyone factored long term return on investment of an Australia truffière with a percentage of the crop at that tinned produce price? When canned, melanosporum, brumale and indicum look exactly the same: they all lose their white veins and the flesh becomes uniformly black. Which must make it a temptation to mix the produce to reach a consitency even if the rules say no fake aroma is added. The first boil juice itself is very aromatic and full of the glutamates, it’s a premi- um product used primarily for sauces. As we arrived at Conservas Coll, a wild hunter had just delivered this plastic bag of very scrap- py but pungent truffle. More so than the farmed beside it. Teruel - truffle capital
  5. 5. On the following day we met Julio Perales (below), president of the Tereul Truffle Growers Association at our hotel and he travelled with us to his plantation Mora de Rubielos. The truffière has mixed deciduous Quercus faginea and evergreen Quercus ilex. Located at an altitude of 1050m, the plantation is cur- rently 12-14 years old. His range of soil types dictates yeild, he is getting an average 100kg per hectare a year on the deeper more fertile soil. Julio is fastidious about soil compaction. Tasks like pruning and weed control (vibra-tilling) are all timed to the soil moisture but sometimes he feels the soil is too damp to run a tractor over for ‘Spanish well’ trenching. On the day we were there, he had a hunter and dog with a second worker following up to add handfuls of the substrate to the hole after the truffles were removed. See the video below. It also meant that we didn’t go into the paddock as a group. Both plantations employed teams of three or four hunters with the aim to visit every tree once a week. The dogs are kept in large kennels. Pera- les has thirteen dogs for three hunters. The dogs were worked for two-hour stretches, then replaced and spelled. During the working season, the only food they are given were the treats Dog food (looks good). Fred food (looks better) when they found a truffle (perhaps giv- en more generously than our better fed dogs in Australia). And as Jan said, I bet none of them got to sleep on the bed! Start with limestone sand like this. Wait centuries for soil. Plant truffle trees Video available online only.
  6. 6. Discussion points It’s clear that our knowledge and un- derstanding of how truffles grow is ex- panding all the time. From the time they coded the whole truffle genome, DNA testing has become part of the regular testing, just as pH is. As a result, what we might previously have considered ‘established practice’ has been challenged. Here are some of the key take-outs: Healthy trees grow better truffles. This challenges some previous thinking that trees need to be kept stressed so they build roots and rely on the action of the truffles to thrive. It seems that the truffle/tree relationship is less symbi- otic than previously thought. Watering, fertilising and reducing weed competi- tion therefore become more important. Fertiliser that promotes truffle growth may well be different from tree growth. A large scale trial is under way at IRTA . Waiting, waiting... Good soil preparation is vital. In Spain, this includes milling to reduce the size of stones in the soil and im- prove texture. Good soil preparation has been shown to bring production forward by two to three years. We’re blessed in Australia and New Zealand with a range of great truffle soils, and if you get the pH right it is clear that you can grow in a wide range of tex- tures. Clay soil that waterlogs being the only exception that doesn’t work (at least we think so this week). It was very strange looking at the rocky soils in Spain compared to what we have here. Avoid compaction of soils. Choice of machinery and the timing of weeding and machine pruning is important to avoid the compaction of soil especially in the brûlés. Truffles can actively change soil pH. Research Marcos presented to the ATGA conference in 2014 has been confirmed and shows that the truffle may act on the surrounding soil to increase the pH to what it needs. So it may be that on- going addition of lime is less vital than was first thought. Defining a range of pH that this applies to is next. There’s a battle of the sexes. We’ve known that two mating types are required to produce the fruiting body. However, it appears that over time, one mating type can take over in each brûlé. You still get a great looking brûlé but it will never grow truffles. If the same mat- ing type comes to dominate in one area of the truffière this could explain those non-productive zones in your paddock that produced briefly then stopped. Adding new spores The successful Tereul growers now after 12 years routinely use ‘Spanish wells’ or trenches to add substrate seeded with truffle spores to their productive orchards. This significantly helps to en- sure the distribution of mating types. Typically, the ‘extra grade’ perfectly round golf-ball size truffles are found in the looser soil of these wells or the sides of the trenches. The catch here is that you need to use high grade truffle in the substrate so you’re using the best ge- netic material – using flavourless reject- ed, large ugly shaped or over ripe truffle may perpetuate undesirable character- istics. This comes at a big expense for a small grower. Growers Colin Carter and Noel Fitzpatrick were doing the sums and said in Australia it would be hard for a small grower to justify and cheaper to replant with new seedlings. You can’t plant then relax. Productivity is increased by cultivation, ripping between the rows – this can also help distribute the mating types. Sur- face tilling around the trees has also proved itself. It’s something to keep in mind when laying out your irrigation. Lines should be deep and not go across the rows. And ongoing testing of mating types will give you feedback to see if you need to intervene. And soil bacteria? Ideal canopy size depends on climate. Fine tuning the canopy to the variety re- ally works. Very hot areas may benefit from more canopy cover, while in cold areas the canopy needs to be restrict- ed to allow more warmth on the ground. Changes in latitude, the way the block faces/slopes and micro-climate factors all can dictate planting, standard dis- tances apart. Rent an expert. Even plan- ning ahead to getting a particular variety of tree prepared, eg. Quercus coccifera Truffières are not forever. There may be a horizon for truffière pro- ductivity. In Spain, highest yields tend to be from 14 to 24 years, then production declines, even with irrigation. Re-inocu- lating may change this. At some point, the truffière may become financially un- productive and need to be abandoned. Around Teruel, they just close the gates, walk away and plant somewhere else – “because there’s plenty of poor quality land that suits truffle better than any other agriculture”. Processing could boost our returns. As our supply increases, is there an op- portunity in Australia to can more of the highqualitysecondgradetruffleandifso, istherealocalandexportmarketforthis? Aestivum doesn’t suck. You can’t judge the flavour from pro- cessed product. Maybe we shouldn’t even consider it ‘summer truffle’ in Australia? It’s a very forgiving variety and can be planted in regions that are antagonistic to black truffle mychori- za. You’ll need to develop a cost anal- ysis for it given the lower sale price. (And bianchetto doesn’t suck either, but none of the dealers we saw were selling it in late January.) Indicum has to stay out. As long as we continue to ban the impor- tation of Chinese truffle, (unless you’re running a trade show when it seems no- one bothers) we’ll have one significant advantage over our export competitors, A goodbye dinner The tour concluded with another epic meal back in Barcelona. Again, Mar- cos had selected a chef understood the potential of truffle. The differ- ence between this slick shoebox sized modern restaurant and the more ro- bust country one (at Can Jubany - Jan writes about that here) is obvious from the menu, which went like this: Royal truffle with porcini ‘confited’ Quail egg, truffle, parmentier and wasabi Faba beans with octopus and truffle Brioche surprise (a whole small truffle inside for each guest) Skate with vanilla, jerusalem artichokes puree and white truffle Dry aged beef with yellow beet, port sauce and black truffle Hot cheese and truffle toasted sandwich Red berries with lime and passionfruit. Butterscotch, caramel caviar, Talisker icecream and truffle. These dinners are sometimes over- whelming, but I reckon a good truffle degustation every season is the best way to learn afresh how truffle works (and how much the chef knows about truffle). If you can afford the trip and the time away from your truffière, tours such as Marcos’ (and by Dr. Christine Fischer, also a friend of the ATGA family who runs a similar one which was happening in the weeks after ours) are eye-opening. Fortunately for the Australian contin- gent, all the group were English-speak- ing, and Marcos sometimes dropped into Spanish for further explanation for the Mexican and Chilean participants. Hello indicum my old friend While we were visiting Laumont they were processing large quantities of im- ported Tuber indicum, and had boxes of fresh indicum ready for dispatch and (clearly marked) tinned indicum as part of their range. If it’s not being eaten as a fresh culinary truffle, it clearly goes to ‘industry’ (to add black-truffle appear- ance even if it has no flavour). A kilo of indicum costs about A$160. This year its sale seemed to be driven as much by the EU stipulated seasonal calendar. Indicum falls outside the ‘official’ dates when wild harvested (and now farmed) varieties can be sold as fresh. Manel Coll from the mushroom and truffle supplier we visited at Conservas Coll S.L outside Barcelona, said they were currently supplying Melansporum, Brumale and Indicum. The dates as prescribed by the Govern- ment (EU) as ‘official season’ were so that wild harvesting does not deplete truffle forests, and that Summer Truffle doesn’t become Winter Truffle (which it does). It doesn’t seem to have changed with availability of cultivated. The dry and unseasonably warm weather meant that the hillsides were covered in blossom from abandoned almond groves. The almond market crashed in Spain some years ago with cheaper imports from Turkey. There was some pain in that beauty as we flashed past. Add truffles to this, push go and get juice. Dr. Xavier Vilanova, partner at MF&A runs their research in bacteria and owns a 4000 tree truffle orchard, with melansporum and borchii END
  7. 7. < thinktag >© Jan O’Connell & Fred Harden 2016

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