Life works in mysterious ways and Barbara Hill – part of the husband and wife team who run Macenmist Black Truffles and Wines in Bredbo – knows this all too well.
Growing up in New Zealand, Barbara started training her next-door neighbour’s dog, a boxer named Marcus who was aggressive towards other dogs. Word got around and before you know it Barbara was teaching obedience classes.
After immigrating to Australia, Barbara continued training dogs, initially in obedience and then later moving into agility. In 1995 one of her border collies finished first in the novice division of a national competition.
A few years later when Barbara and her husband Richard purchased a property in Bredbo to start a truffle farm, her skills would come in handy once again as the sole trainer of the lagotto truffle dogs.
Those who know a little bit about truffle farming would know that dogs are integral to the harvesting process. In winter, when the French black truffles are at their ripest, dogs are specially trained to detect their scent in the ground.
The training regime is quite rigorous and often takes upwards of two years before a dog is fully trained.
“We begin by dipping cotton wool in truffle oil, putting it in a box and then scattering the boxes everywhere. The boxes are all above ground first because we need to teach them the aroma they are looking for,” she said.
“Then when they find the box with the truffle they are always rewarded. The next step is putting the lid on the boxes, so they have no visual of the inside box and are relying solely on their nose.
“After that, we progress to the first real truffle. Once you change from synthetic to the real thing there is no going back as it is a slightly different scent. Then we follow the same regime, just using the real truffle instead.
“When they’re ready to progress, we start hiding truffles in the ground. The last phase of training is getting them to indicate where the truffle is without digging. Here I use a different command to get them to show me again where the truffle is and then wait patiently for me to dig it out.”
Macenmist currently has four dogs, two aged Border Collies and two Lagotto Romagnolo truffle dogs, of which one is about half way through training.
Each year as part of the Canberra Truffle Festival, Macenmist hosts various truffle hunts where people can come and join in the experience.
“People are absolutely fascinated by the hunts and the skill of the dogs,” Barbara said.
“They really appreciate the whole paddock to plate experience.”
This year, Macenmist is hosting a number of hunts during the Truffle Festival, which is held between 21 June and 31 August.
There are traditional hunts, hunts with a three-course luncheon and an all-day event.
The all-day event includes a hunt, luncheon and cooking demonstrations where a chef will teach the group simple dishes using truffle that they can cook in their own homes.
This year’s lunch menu starts with soup with truffle foam, followed by twice cooked beef croquette with truffle perigueux sauce and to finish a chocolate and truffle extravaganza. Every dish features truffle in some way.
To find out more about these events or to book a spot, visit trufflefestival.com.au.
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