30 July 2018
A giant truffle unearthed in North Canterbury has found its way into a special-edition local ale.
The whopper 1.37kg black Périgord truffle was dug up by Jax Lee, general manager of Kings Truffles in Waipara, after her 5-year-old dog Freddy sniffed it out beside an oak tree.
It is the largest truffle found in New Zealand on record.
“At first it didn't look like anything out of the ordinary, but once I got it out of the ground I was gobsmacked,” says Lee.
“We seem to have a handful of big ones every season, but not to this scale. I think the good amount of autumn rain helped this one along.”
The next challenge was to clean it up, extremely carefully, and make sure it was put to good use.
Lee had just the place in mind.
The family-owned Brew Moon Brewing Company, started by Kieran McCauley and Belinda Gould and located down the road in Amberley, has now added shavings from the record-setting truffle to a golden ale.
“My husband and I consider Brew Moon our local so have always pestered them about making a truffle beer and having truffled pizzas on the menu,” Lee says.
When the chance came up to use one giant truffle in a special brew, Lee finally managed to twist their friends’ arms over a couple of beers at the taproom.
The rest she has “left up to the brewing experts… but with the odd tasting of course”.
Oscar McCauley, who works with his parents at the Brew Moon, says there are unique challenges in working with an ingredient the brewery has never used before – and an expensive one at that.
“We want to find a point where the truffle character is clear and compliments the beer, but also not add too much. The flavours marry up nicely, so now it’s just a matter of adjusting the amount of truffle to find that sweet spot,” he says.
It’s not the first time Kings Truffles has collaborated with a brewery.
“We found a large one a few years back that went into a porter – Nerissimo – done by Garage Project,” Lee says.
However, she is happy to see this one being used so close to home.
McCauley says the brewery will release the extra-special ale at Beervana in Wellington on August 10 and 11.
“New Zealand’s best breweries are producing all sorts of weird and wonderful beer styles so it’s a great opportunity to see how this brew stacks up.”
And if it goes well, the Brew Moon might consider doing it again.
“There is a great truffle scene here in North Canterbury, so it would be amazing to be able to make this a yearly seasonal brew,” McCauley says.
“We [just] can’t promise that we will be working with such an enormous truffle next time.”
Truffles in Canterbury
Truffles or 'underground mushrooms' grow in and around the roots of a variety of trees, including hazelnut, oaks, and pines. While they are grown elsewhere in New Zealand, including in the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay, Canterbury is the only place where four varieties are grown: Périgord Black, Bianchetto, Burgundy and Winter Truffles. The region’s high pH, limestone-rich soils and sunshine hours allow truffles to thrive (they evolved in limestone-rich areas of Europe). There are more producers in North Canterbury than anywhere else in the country.
Why so expensive?
Yes, truffles are expensive – a small one can cost between $60 and $70, but there is a reason. They are very hard to grow. Gavin and Anne Hulley, of Amuri Truffiere, planted their oak and hazelnut trees 20 years ago (in 1997) and got their first truffles in 2004. In 2016, they dug up a grand total of 16 kilograms from two hectares. It’s hard to tell when truffles are ready too, because once they’re dug up… they can’t go back in the ground.
Brew Moon Brewing Company
Kieran McCauley and Belinda Gould opened the Brew Moon in Amberley in 2002 after moving back to New Zealand from California where they lived with their two boys and Belinda worked as a winemaker. Craft beer was just kicking off in the United States and the couple reasoned that the same would probably apply in New Zealand in the near future. Toby, their eldest son, joined the brewery team in 2015 to help with production. Oscar, their youngest, joined in 2016 to assist with marketing and sales.
Led by Jax Lee, Kings Truffles is a New Zealand leader in supplying fresh truffle direct from the source to top chefs and food connoisseurs alike. Like many family-orientated businesses, it is powered by passion, dedication and a dose of ‘number eight wire’ mentality. With over 6000 trees in the heart of Canterbury’s limestone country, and with 15 years of experience in the production and supply of the rare and luxurious delicacy, Kings Truffles is one of the largest truffle-growing operations in New Zealand. Its knowledgeable staff also provide bespoke truffle hunts, truffle-infected seedlings and education to those interested in setting up their own truffière.