It is well known that this little pocket of Manjimup & Pemberton is responsible for over 80% of Australian truffles. But why is this?
Little is actually known about the reasons for the regions' success. When asked about this a few years ago, Alf Salter of Truffle&Wine responded:
“...the area is perfect for growing truffles. Manjimup has warm summers and cool, wet winters. But our winters are warmer than any truffle growing area in the world and people thought we wouldn’t be successful. Now that we are successful, people are coming up with the idea that maybe that is the reason. I have no idea. I believe it is an x-factor in the soil that encourages fungal growth.”
One of the things we asked everybody we spoke with when we visited WA last week was why is this small region - the closest truffle producing region to the equator - so successful?
It's worth quickly recapping that the traditional French environment where black truffles naturally grow are warm summer days with good sunlight, followed by frosty and mainly dry winter days.
Manjimup certainly delivers the former, but the latter? The truffle farmers we spoke with all agreed that the temperature needs to be below 20 degrees in late autumn/winter for a great harvest, and this needs to be consistent (many days of below 20). However, just below 20 is still much warmer than the winters in France.
We decide to visited the Blakers to see if they could shed some light on what makes this region one of the worlds biggest producer of truffle. Al Blakers, aka the King of Truffles was overseas when we visited but we had the pleasure of meeting his son Ben.
As well as having a producing trufferie, the Blakers also have an extensive nursery, supplying farms in WA and beyond with inoculated truffle trees.
Ben has experience and knowledge well beyond his years. He is quietly spoken, warm and generous with his time. He started learning about truffle at 12yo, when his father Al started inoculating trees.
For Ben, the answer to our questions lay in the loam soil and root system of the area. In particular, the abundance of Karri trees (Eucalyptus diversicolor), which are unique to South-West WA.
Below is a picture of a Karri tree at the bottom of the Blakers' trufferie.
"The karri supports an extensive ecosystem which is connected to the granite outcrops of the lower south-west and the many subsequent creeks and rivers created from runoff"
Karri trees also grow in loam soil, which is predominant in the region. Loam is renowned for being ideal for plant growing. It is equal parts sand and silt, and a little less clay. Loam is both nutrient rich but also perfect for water drainage in that it allows time for plants to access the water but not too slowly that the soil becomes water logged. Dion Range from Stonebarn Lodge also believes the loam soil is integral to truffle growth.
So, it seems that the reasons why WA produces so much high quality truffle comes down to a number of factors and perhaps the complex interaction between them: the karri trees, the loam soil, the climate...and as most of the truffle farmers say "a little luck". For now, the elusive black truffle remains elusive.