A PIG is one of the key components to an Otways’ truffle farm’s success.
Steve Earl and Miki Slade own a truffle farm at Wongarra, near Apollo Bay, and Delores the pig, is a better truffle hunter than their dog.
“The pig is a bit harder to handle when she wants to eat something, but she’ll pinpoint every truffle in the truffery,” Mr Earl said.
“The scent of the truffle mimics a chemical compound that is in the saliva glands of the male pig, therefore it needs to be a female pig,” he said.
Mr Earl said he also used a hungarian vizsla, Archer, to assist in the twice-a-week truffle hunts.
“Delores will eat the truffles if she’s allowed to, but Archer’s got no desire to eat them, he likes the attention and the reward when he finds them,” he said.
Mr Earl said he and partner Miki bought the property because they wanted more control over the food he served at their Apollo Bay restaurant.
The couple also farms dorper lambs and welsh black beef cattle.
“It’s about keeping it natural, and trying to keep the food we use as local as possible,” Mr Earl said.
“It is very rewarding growing something from scratch and seeing it coming out on the plate in the restaurant,” he said.
The truffle harvest happens in winter, from June to late August.
Mr Earl said he harvested 2.5 kilograms of truffles a week from beneath the 200 oak trees on the 36-hectare property.
“They produce every year – it’s about maintaining the soil, keeping the PH up and having the right conditions,” he said.
“The harvests have been getting better and better every year.”
The truffles are either destined for a plate at Mr Earl and Ms Slade’s restaurant, or to Melbourne foodies and chefs.
“What we’re doing at the moment – we use 30 per cent of our harvest through
our own restaurant La Bimba,” Mr Earl said.
“The rest I take to Melbourne,” he said.
“That’s where we’ve made it available to the public to buy our truffles retail, we also supply other restaurants.”
Mr Earl said he sold his truffles for a wholesale price of $2500 a kilogram.
“We’ve had some truffles that have been 300 grams to 400 grams each, they can be anywhere from five grams up to 500 or 600 grams,” he said.
Mr Earl said it was hard to explain why truffles were so special.
“It’s a good question, it’s very hard to explain in words, you just have to experience it to understand it,” he said.