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Carstel

2 Vizslas, a girl, and a crazy rabbit.

This is certainly something I’ve never heard of a Vizsla doing, much less in team with a pig.

Foraging Ahead.

“AUSTRALIA’S small truffle world is littered with contrasting stories of frustration and joy.

Take Graham Duell, president of the Australian Truffle Growers Association, who puts in lots of voluntary hours for the ATGA, and who put in his inoculated trees (hazelnut and oak) at Jindivick, in West Gippsland, at the turn of the century.

Eleven long winters later, he still hasn’t found a truffle.

Then there are couples such as Mikhiala Slade and Steve Earl in the Otway Ranges on Victoria’s west coast, living the dream of life in a rural idyll: rolling green hills, babbling brook, ocean views, the smell of the bush.

Theirs is an almost accidental truffle success story.

Slade and Earl moved to their 36ha farm early last year knowing it included a trufferie, a small orchard devoted to about 200 trees with inoculated rootstock. And they knew the trufferie had produced in the past: small quantities of the subterranean fungus Tuber melanosporum, the black Perigord truffle.

But that was a bonus for this couple, who run a restaurant, La Bimba, in the nearby holiday town of Apollo Bay. And when you stroll through their Otway Harvest Truffles property, with its sea air rolling up from the beaches along the Great Ocean Road, you can see why. Their little farm is perfect: lush pastures, rainforest, olive grove and a kitchen garden for their restaurant.

Then there’s the small flock of dorper ewes (a much-valued meat breed), a huddle of 30 Welsh black cattle (ditto), a free-ranging flock of chickens and guinea fowl, and of course the working animals: Archer, a handsome Hungarian vizsla dog, and Dolores, a massive, single-minded 280kg Wessex saddleback pig.

When you have truffles in the ground, you need animals to find them, and Slade and Earl may be the only ones among Australia’s estimated 200 truffle hopefuls using a pig to sniff out treasure, the traditional technique for finding naturally occurring truffles in the forests of France and Italy. . . .

Today, an unseasonably mild morning for mid-winter Victoria, our small party – including Melbourne-based chef John Lawson, the couple’s biggest customer – makes its way from the homestead up the hill to the trufferie via a deep wallow where Dolores, four years old and still growing, celebrates the glory of mud. But pigs are smart, and this one knows she’s getting a run among the trees today, something that happens several times a week during winter, when Earl and Slade have typically found about 2.5kg of the culinary prize each week for perhaps 10 weeks. . . .

Archer pawing the earth proves to be a reliable indication of something pungent below, while Dolores snuffling the ground is not only a sure sign but a warning to get her snout out of the soil quick-smart.

“I think Dolores gets hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of truffles every year,” says Earl, whose task it is to manage the creature. . . .”

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