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                             EXPERIENCE | Truffle Hunting
Truffle hunting is a new adventure these enthusiastic novices are keen to share with you. So head up to Robbo to check out their truffiere and sniff what all the fuss is about.
ost of us might have felt slightly daunted at the prospect of taking over operations of a property that grew the largest truffle ever found in the
Southern Highlands. But husband and wife team John Phizacklea and Samantha Appel have all the confidence of the young and feel anything but intimidated. Uninitiated
as they were in the ways of the aromatic fungus, and new parents to baby Gracie, the former advertising and food industry workers are full of ideas how to continue and build upon their Robertson truffiere’s previous success.
‘You could say we have both been on very steep truffle learning curves over the past few months,’ says Appel, a new member of the Australian Truffle Growers Association. ‘But it’s something we are both very passionate about, and we see ourselves carving a great life and business here with the truffle growing and tours for ourselves and Gracie.’
Recently renamed Robertson Truffles, it was here in 2014 on the 85 hectare farm near Belmore Falls that the 1.172 kg Perigord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) was found under seven year old Ilex and Robur oak trees. With 375 host trees in eight rows, the farm also has some trees that produce Burgundy truffles (T. aestivum).
But more about that whopper truffle. The largest one found in Australia at that time, the precious fungus was such a monster it didn’t need the traditional sniffer dogs to unearth it, but reportedly broke the surface without assistance. (For some perspective, the world’s largest black truffle at that time weighed 1.31 kg and had been found near Buje in Croatia in 1999.) The Australian and Croatian
delicacies have since both been upstaged by a 1.5 kg truffle found
in Victoria’s Yarra Valley in 2016. John’s parents, Peter and Jan,
are the owners of Gourmet Grocer
and International Foods, and
bought Robertson Truffles early
this year. On the hunt for a farm
close to Sydney to share with their four children and eight grandchildren, they were unaware of the added bonus of truffles at first. They’d had in mind growing organic garlic but when they saw the truffle forest, it just fell into place.
The Southern Highlands truffle season begins at the start of June and runs until the end of August, says truffle expert and dog trainer Prue Church, who is helping the Phizacklea family in their new venture. From the NSW Northern Rivers, Church travels to the Highlands every year for the season with husband Alan. Their ‘noses’, much loved dogs Sirius, Peri and Caph, have been trained by Church in the art of detecting the truffles. The roots of the oak trees are infected with the truffle spores, and then hopefully grow
on the roots of the trees, in turn omitting a strong odour which dogs can be trained to detect. The Churches and their working canine family will be at Robertson Truffles when their first tour of the 10-week truffle season kicks off on June 3.

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