Dogs trained to 'snuffle out' truffles in Tasmania
Truffle-hunting dogs have got their work cut out for them as Tasmania’s truffle season gathers pace.
The Australian truffle harvest has more than doubled in the past three years, to more than 13 tonnes per annum, with the majority being exported.
Tasmania produced about 1.5 tonnes, which gives dogs like Mandy and Jack plenty of work to do.
Mandy has been working as a truffle hunting dog for nine years, while apprentice Jack is only new to the industry.
Truffle hunter Simon French said the dogs sniffed out the truffles and showed him where they were.
“These two will basically claw the floor, and if I’m not quite sure where they’ve marked, I’ll ask them to show me and they’ll put their nose down on the area,” he said.
Mr French said he bought his dogs from animal shelters when they were about 12 months old.
“It doesn’t matter what breed they are. I’m looking for a certain drive the dog has,” he said.
He trains the dogs for six weeks, and then they continue to learn on the job.
“I train these dogs to find truffles by using the drive that they have, so my dogs are all ball fanatics,” he said.
“I use that as a tool to teach the dog to locate a stimulus, the stimulus being a truffle scent, and then I reward them with a ball.”
Tasmanian truffle farmer Marcus Jessup said the truffles the dogs found were not always ready to harvest.
“We’ll get down and smell it to make sure it’s mature enough to come out, or we’ll leave it for the following week,” he said.
Demand sending truffles overseas
The Australian Truffle Growers Association said Australia was now the fourth-largest producer of black truffles in the world after France, Italy and Spain.
President Peter Stahle said the major demand was coming from overseas.
“We export about 85 per cent of those truffles that we produce,” he said.
“The major markets are the US, Europe and particularly France and also Asia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.”
Mr Jessup said domestic demand was picking up, but it was not growing as fast as production.
“It’d be nice if everyone tries truffle or appreciates them,” he said.
“It is expensive, but it’s a unique flavour, so if we can grow the Australian market it’d be better to grow here than export overseas.”