Move Over, Monsieur
Adrian Mielke and his dog, Lola, help unearth the world's largest crop of black truffles, grown by the Truffle & Wine Co. in Western Australia.
It is early July in Western Australia, and the black-truffle harvest is swinging into high gear in the remote village of Manjimup. As I walk the Truffle & Wine Co.’s 52-acre grove of hazelnut and oak trees with the truffle hunter Adrian Mielke, there is a sense of urgency. Winter rains are flooding the normally dry soil, imperiling a few million dollars’ worth of “black diamonds” with the chance of rot.
Mielke’s affable yellow Labrador retriever Lola snuffles along the ground until she scents truffles intertwined with the roots of a host tree. She scratches at the soil to mark the spot and waits as Mielke gets down on one knee and roots his fingers into the friable soil to reveal a cluster of three black lumps. He lifts and gently turns over the truffles, lightly squeezing each one to ensure that it has not gone soft and looking for insect damage or other surface faults. He leans over and sniffs the hole for mildew. Satisfied that the truffles are ready to be harvested and are in prime condition, he covers them over and drops a fluorescent pink streamer to mark the spot for the harvesters.
Lola gets the first of many treats before we continue along the 25 miles of nut-tree rows in the Hazel Hill truffle farm, or truffière. Mielke and Lola usually cover three to four miles per day and discover hundreds of ripe truffles. Each little dig turns up clusters of two to seven truffles; most are the size of hen’s eggs, but others are as large as a goose’s. These treasures weigh an impressive 1 to 4 ounces each.
Every so often, Mielke pauses to pick up a truffle that has nudged its way to the surface. He grimaces as he hands me a spongy specimen that is beginning to disintegrate—a black diamond turning into a lump of compost. “We need to harvest faster before the rains soften up the ground,” he says.
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