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Meet The Truffle Hunters

Jun 23, 2016  ·  5 min read

By Ashleigh Went.

Truffle, truffle, hunt and hustle… whether you enjoy your filets with the truffle butter (a la Nicki Minaj and Drake) or finely shaved truffle over mac n cheese (Maccheroni con Formaggio e Tartufo from Capitol Bar & Grill is to die for), it’s not often we pause to think where these mysterious, delicious morsels actually come from.

I caught up with Jayson Mesman, Founder and Director of The Truffle Farm, to find out about the truffles, the farm, and his pack of clever truffle hunting hounds.

What’s so damn special about truffle?

I think the fascination with truffle started for me with the dog side of the business. I was greatly motivated to improve the detection of the dogs – this included their accuracy regarding location and ripeness. The working dogs in my first business (Truffle Dogs Pty Ltd), are second to none. They are trained to find only ripe truffles with pinpoint accuracy, and in a manner that will not damage the expensive produce.

But to understand how to train the dogs I had to understand the truffle. In my previous job as contract truffle dog handler I got to work on hundreds of truffle farms in Australia and overseas. This unique position gave me access to the knowledge held by many different farmers.

Truffle is so expensive because it is so difficult to cultivate and to harvest. Even when you think you have the process down pat Mother Nature can throw you a curve ball. So it’s that unpredictability and mystery that makes it so special to me personally.

You’ve worked with plenty of hounds in your time, what makes your main pooch, Samson, so special?

Samson was given to us to re-home in 2006. His previous owner was moving cities and couldn’t fit a Labrador puppy into his new lifestyle. We didn’t have a fenced yard at the time so weren’t in a position to keep him so starting trying to find a home for him. Samson was re-homed a number of times, but would keep coming back to us. My partner Danielle and I decided this poor little puppy had been through enough and we would keep him with us.

Danielle is allergic to dogs, so having him live inside with us was a real challenge. So to burn off some of his energy each day I would take him to the park across the road to play fetch. It was during these games I noticed his incredible detection talent. I was a law enforcement dog handler at the time and had worked with some incredible dogs in my career. Samson was one of the best in terms of natural drive and ability.

Run us through your truffle hunting squad.

Simba (Hunts for Hugs) was a challenge to train in the beginning. He wouldn’t respond to our usual training techniques and wasn’t interested in any of the rewards. My partner Danielle came down and said ‘Why are you getting so frustrated with him?’. Simba started walking through the trees and indicated in the vicinity of a tree but would not respond with any conviction. Danielle, being the great animal lover she is, tried encouraging him by giving him a hug. Suddenly Simba was full of excitement and responded to a truffle. After that it was clear affection was his motivator and he was trained to find truffles with hugs and belly rubs.

Nala (The Escape Artist) is a female chocolate Labrador we discovered at Domestic Animal Services (DAS). The story we were told when we went to get Nala was that she had been in and out of the facility ten times, and her previous owner said she was an escape artist. We took her home and double checked that the yard was secure and went inside the house. Later that evening we got a call from the local Woolworths supermarket to ask whether we were missing a chocolate Labrador, they said ‘we think we have your dog down here; she is sitting in the chocolate aisle’.

Willow (Deer in Disguise) is such a lean and energetic dog. When she came to us she was even thinner than she is now. Her lean frame and her running style made her look just like an impala. Danielle calls her the little deer or Bambi.

Bear (The Muscle) is our very large German Shepard. Although he can truffle hunt with the best of them, his appearance seems to scare many of the guests on the truffle hunt. So we don’t use him in public anymore and jokingly call him ‘Truffle Security’ because nobody wants to be in the paddock when he is working.

Max (The Graduate) was our first ‘graduate’ of Truffle Dog University. Max is a kelpie we rescued from Working Dog Rescue and we trained him to work both as a truffle dog and a sheep dog to fill a request for assistance from Truffle Farms in QLD. The graduate was a label that stuck with Max after a photo of Max and I went viral on social media. We even made him a little hat…

If you want to meet Jayson and his loveable pack of truffle hunting dogs, plus go hunting for your very own truffles among the French oak trees, come with us as we go on a truffle hunt and truffle tasting adventure. Pair that with a luxury stay, breakfast, parking a late checkout, and you’ve got yourself a pretty tidy and very flavoursome weekend away. The QT Truffle Hunt is available July 16-17, 2016.

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