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On the hunt for truffles in Western Australia

August 30, 2009 |  1:30 pm


Reporting from Pemberton, Australia -- The treasure lies in the Great Southern Forests region, in groves of oak and hazelnut trees, away from the typical tourist spots of Oz. Sometimes, I think I am the sole proprietor of this secret, but then I remember that Thomas Keller, Ferran Adrià and Michael Mina know it too -- so well that they're already using Western Australia's Périgord black truffles, this black gold, this diamond of the kitchen, in their restaurants around the world.

France has historically been king of the Périgord truffle, but unexpectedly low yields there, coupled with a huge projected harvest from the Southern Forests township of Manjimup, have turned this corner of Australia into the promised land for foodies, chefs and mycologists, the branch of botany whose focus is fungi.

As a curious gastronome and hands-on-learner, I've come here to learn more about the cultivation of this fungus, which, with a few swipes from a grater, transforms a dish from "ho-hum" to "oh yum!" It's been a few years since my last visit to Western Australia, where I worked at vineyards and sustainable farms, trying to absorb as much gastronomic knowledge as possible. The emergence of the black truffle industry -- and the hunts organized for tourists -- has brought me, and other travelers, here:

Photo: Krista Simmons / Los Angeles Times