Makers & Growers
Put on your gumboots, don your winter woollies then prepare to rush forth in search of Ballarat’s black gold – otherwise known as the truffle.
When Andres Haas and wife Lynette first thought about growing this subterranean treat, Victorian truffle production lagged the rest of the nation. So it was quite a coup for the chefs of Ballarat, not to mention the local foodies, when Andres and Lynette ‘literally stumbled upon a small cottage in Wattle Flat and fell in love with it immediately’.
“The Central Highlands region is an ideal region for growing truffles – it has cold winters with frosts, and nice warm summers – all requirements to kick off the fruiting bodies and maturation process in the truffle. ”Andres Haas, Black Cat Truffles
Their plans for a small manageable plantation were quickly superseded by their adoration for their new land. “At first it was a ‘sensible’ 5 to 10 vacant acres to build an ecologically sustainable house and plant maybe 400 trees – an easy hobby farm,” said Andres. But after purchasing their Wattle Flat property, “building became extending, and 400 became 1000, and with no farm experience to speak of we launched into truffles at full tilt,” he explained.
There are many considerations when it comes to growing truffles — the pH level of the soil, its irrigation and, of course, the crop itself. And even though farmers are attracted by its potential profitability, it can be more miss than hit. But the pair had done their research.
“The Central Highlands region is an ideal region for growing truffles – it has cold winters with frosts, and nice warm summers – all requirements to kick off the fruiting bodies and maturation process in the truffle.” Andres said.
Not prepared to leave anything to chance, this hardworking husband and wife team bought 500 deciduous English Oaks and 500 evergreen French ones. In addition to supplying the trees, Truffles Australis in Tasmania had the task of inoculating each and every one with truffle spores. “Don’t ask how,” Lynette added. “It’s a secret,” Andres added.
To have a crop from February to March, five per cent of the trees were inoculated with the more affordable black summer truffle. To extend the harvest from mid-June to early August, the rest were spawned with the more lucrative black winter variety.
Either way, it was another five years before Andres and Lynette had anything to show for their efforts.
Today, visitors to the property can delight in following the couple’s truffle hunting dogs, Ella, Harry and Narla as they set out in search of this black gold. “Then you can warm up in our café-style tasting rooms to savour the truffles,” Lynette said, “with cooking tips and other fascinating information.”
While the crop won’t reach maximum output until 2024, the quality is there to be enjoyed and the farm has quite a following. The couple stages around six truffle hunts every winter and tickets can sell out months early.
Black Cat Cottage is a beautiful property on 20 peaceful acres. Come, stay and relax in a self-contained farm stay accommodation and share in the picturesque views of Creswick State Forest and a 1,000 tree truffiere.