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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

09/19/2016 - Sisters Crush for Breast Cancer and Terra Petra Truffles, Australia

Slow Living's first interview this week is with a woman with a mission and a cause. Rayellen Jordan, Founder of Sisters Crush for Breast Cancer. Their annual walk/run in Yountville is on October 15, so come and support the team (and Slow Living's hosts) and have some fun for a good cause.

Next we are delighted to welcome Peter Marshall, who with his wife Kate, and family (and dogs), have established one of Australia's most respected truffle farms, organically grown and respectful of the environment, and while doing so are building an environmental infrastructure to restore the land to it's former healthy habitat.
Peter Marshall, 
Terra Preta Truffles, 
Braidwood, New South Wales

The Marshall's in action with Sal looking for her reward, while Shadow does the work with Kate.

For a dog let loose on a gentle sloping hill bathed in bright winter sunshine, birdsong in the air, Sal looks bored. Standing under a 10-year-old hazelnut tree, the golden Labrador-kelpie cross turns her head away as if to yawn. Suddenly her paw comes out and lightly pats the earth in front of her. In spite of all appearances, she has been working hard, all her energies concentrated in her nose, which sits about 20 centimeters above the rich autumnal leaf litter underfoot.
The second half of this crack truffle-hunting team, Kate Marshall, moves in with a slim truffle pick, gently breaking up the soil and scraping it away with gloved hands. She murmurs constantly to Sal, who appears to be patiently waiting for the human to find what the dog already knows is there.
And there it is – a nobbly chocolate-brown truffle the size of an apple. This is the holy grail of gastronomy; the rare, precious and mysterious black Perigord truffle (Tuber melanosporum) that has been the food of kings and inspiration of poets for centuries. Suddenly, Sal is focused, intent, staring – not at the truffle but at Kate’s pocket. Sure enough, a little dry doggie treat issues forth and it’s on to the next tree.
Hunting is a macho business, full of guns, traps, blood and pain. Truffle-hunting is a gentler pursuit, requiring skill, intuition, strategy, experience, a good nose and a close, trusting relationship between dog and human. ‘‘They have a symbiotic relationship, Kate and Sal,’’ says Peter Marshall, of Terra Preta Truffles near Braidwood, a historic country town with streets as wide as football grounds. Peter and Kate, sons Keith and Angus, and daughter Rita are all obsessed with these edible fungi; Peter most of all.
When we look at a tree, we see a tree. When he looks at a tree, he sees the other half of the story, buried underground. ‘‘Half the forest is below the ground,’’ he says. ‘‘So when I prune, I prune to create fruit that is invisible and underground.’’
This ‘‘underground fruit’’ is the truffle, produced by the tiny straggly white threads (mycorrhiza) that feed and receive nutrients and moisture to and from the tree.
Slow Living's Sal, gets coaching from Peter
 The truffles’ strong aroma is thought to have been developed to attract animals that would then dig them up, aerating the ground around the tree and dispersing the spores. ‘‘The tree and the truffle depend completely on each other,’’ Peter says. ‘‘In fact, native truffles are vital to Australia’s forest system.’’
A renowned arborist and forester, he brings obsessive scholarship andrigour to the preparation of the soil and selection of tree stock for truffle-growing.
At Terra Preta, he has planted hazelnut and oak, reinstated natural waterways and ploughed the ground, doing everything possible to turn what he calls ‘‘devastated’’ land (soil compacted from years of animal grazing and cropping, with damage from irrigation, pesticide use and gold mining) into soft, loamy friable soil.
The softer and healthier the soil, he says, the easier it is for the tree roots to spread and truffles to form. Soft and springy underfoot, the soil here is a marvel. You can dig into it with your bare hand and break it up as easily as a rich flourless chocolate cake.
Terra Preta truffles are flown to truffle specialists Friend & Burrell in Melbourne and also on to France, Italy and the US.

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