Going on a truffle hunt (and we’re not scared)

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Maureen and Colin Binns, owners of Te Puke Truffles are teaming up with Kitchen Takeover to offer foodie’s a rare and memorable experience that brings together the best of the Bay of Plenty’s produce and people. 

Since 2015, Maureen and Colin Binns, owners of Te Puke Truffles have been harvesting some of the best quality truffles in New Zealand. 

Inviting you onto their lifestyle farm to go on a once in a lifetime experience and hunt a truffle every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11-2pm from May 21 to July 18. You’ll get to go on a search with their truffle hunting dog Jed as he help you sniff out a black Perigord truffle at the height of the truffle season. 

We were lucky enough to chat to Maureen all about what truffles are and what people will get out of going on this treasure hunt. 

When someone thinks of a truffle most people probably think of a chocolate truffle – how are these different?

Maureen Binns: Our T.melanosporum truffles are unique fungi that have a season, grow underground, and are found by our trained dog. They are mostly used by slicing them thinly and used in association with diary products, eggs, pasta and potatoes. They can also be used to infuse salt and honey. 

I make chocolate truffles for people who come on our truffle hunts so they can learn the difference between them and the black diamonds that we grow here! 

How did the collaboration between Kitchen Takeover and Te Puke Truffles come about and what were the very first discussions like about getthing this off the ground? 

MB: It really all happened because of Covid. Kitchen Takeover’s foraging popup dining experiences were delayed until our truffle season had started. Stacey (from Kitchen Takeover) called me to ask about buying some truffles, so I invited her and her chef out to join us and harvest one. They loved the experience and I told them how we were taking small groups on special truffle taste experience and truffle hunt tours. Stacey thought it would be a wonderful experience to share with a greater audience. We love our truffles and want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to taste them too. We want our guests to spread the word that we can grow wonderful truffles here in New Zealand. 

Is there an art to growing/farming truffles or is it something that anyone would be able to do in the comfort of their own home?

MB: If it were easy to grow truffles, the price per kilo would be much lower and there would be many more people worldwide growing them (can be thousands of dollars!) It takes a lot of care and expertise and possibly some luck too, to actually produce truffles. There are some truffieres in New Zealand with New Zealand with hundreds of trees that are older than our trees and they have never produced a truffle – and maybe they never will. 

What is involved when ‘hunting’ for a truffle?

MB: In our truffiere, which has a soil structure that is open because it has volcanic material in it, we see early indications in autumn when the ground cracks as a truffle starts to grow. But to actually locate and harvest a ripe truffle, we use our truffle dog Jed. He is trained to locate a ripe truffle and indicate to us where it is. For a hunt, we put Jed on a lead and Colin takes him into the truffiere. Jed has a tremendous sense of smell and sniff for the smell of a ripe truffle – then he leads Colin to where it is. Jed sniffs and sniffs until he pats the place where it is the strongest. My job is then to get down on my knees and confirm the aroma. If I agree with Jed, then I carefully dig up the truffle.

On a hunt, after I have recorded the tree where the truffle has been found and its weight, we hand the truffle to the people on the hunt so they can smell it and see what it looks like. They like to take lots of photos of the truffles! When we have lifted several truffles, we head back to our house where I prepare truffled food for our guests and Colin cleans the truffles and puts them aside to air dry. 

What can someone get out of participating in the ‘truffle hunt’?

MB: The opportunity to enjoy a unique foodie experience at a fraction of what is cost us to do the same thing throughout the globe. For me as a foodie, an important part of the truffle hunt experience is that I share with our guests many of the recipes that I have used with our truffles. They get to taste a lot of the food that I make using truffles. I would say that the experience for our guests is an eye opening one. 

What is something you are most excited for people to see or be involved in when they come along to hunt for truffles?

MB: The sheer joy on people’s faces when they get to see, smell and taste these wonderful exotic fungus. It is a once in a lifetime experience. 

Buy tickets HERE

Photo: Supplied
Words: Caitlin Houghton