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Nose to the grindstone . . . Sophie is busy with her truffle-hunting endeavours. Photos: Amanda Bowes

 

By AMANDA BOWES

Harvesting truffles is no trifling task, especially when you’re a dog.

A bumper early crop this season has kept truffle dog Sophie busy.

The truffles, grown high on a hill above Waikari, are usually harvested in July and August, but a perfect growing season has meant Sophie and her handler, Gavin Hulley, have been harvesting since the end of May.

While lots of truffles can make it easier for the dog to find them, it also means it is harder to point exactly where they are, as the dog can pick up a false scent.

“The large number of truffles means Sophie isn’t getting bored, but it is tiring for both of us as there are long periods of concentration,” Gavin says.

Gavin, a partner in the truffiere, says good rainfall and a long hot summer have contributed to the truffles being twice the weight and twice the yield.

A change in management practice, keeping water up to them in the drier times, has also helped.

“The average weight this season is 42 grams per truffle. During the drought years and prior, the average weight was 20 grams.”

Not only has the yield been good, but the flavour and aroma has been the best ever.

“The feedback we are getting from buyers is very good – restaurants and individuals are very happy with the quality.”

Perfect conditions . . . It’s been a bumper season for truffles, says Gavin Hulley,

Having truffles available early in the season commands higher prices, another bonus usually missed out on in a normal season.

The truffles are grown on oak and hazelnut trees, which were planted in the 1990s. There were few truffles grown on limestone hills at the time, so a lot of the early years involved trial and error.

Another area of the block has been planted in a different type of oak, an evergreen French variety, which is meant to be drought resistant.

Planted a few winters ago, the small trees have been put to the test, with no water and several dry years.

They have stood up to the challenge and are now growing well.

As for Gavin and Sophie, they are taking a well-earned break this week before tackling the steep hill again next weekend.