Jamie Ryan smelling truffles.
Strong aromas: Jamie Ryan smelling out truffles during the hunt in the southern highlands. Photo: Steven Siewert

"That's a monster," Jamie Ryan said, as he traced the edges of a black lump half-buried in the ground. He scooped away more soil before lifting his prized find in the air. ''And here's the first truffle!''

Mr Ryan, head chef and co-owner of County Dining in Morpeth, is part of a group of chefs in the Hunter region who are learning to search for one of the world's most exalted ingredients, at Rosewood farm in the southern highlands.

They are part of a growing number of chefs who have embraced the paddock to plate philosophy but rarely have the chance to venture into the regions of some of their produce. They are increasingly relying on industry tours, such as the trufferie trip hosted by food consultant Tawnya Bahr, to visit farms.

Lilly the truffle hunting dog with her handler Dalene Devonshire. Click for more photos

The Truffle Hunt

Lilly the truffle hunting dog with her handler Dalene Devonshire. Photo: Steven Siewert

  • Lilly the truffle hunting dog with her handler Dalene Devonshire.
  • Hope Estate chef Mert Tansu smelling truffles from in the ground.
  • A group of Hunter Valley chefs on a truffle hunt excursion on a farm in the Southern Highlands with a food tour organised by Tawnya Bahr.
truffle in the ground.
  • A group of Hunter Valley chefs on a truffle hunt excursion on a farm in the Southern Highlands with a food tour organised by Tawnya Bahr.
 handler Dalene Devonshire.
  • County Dining chef and owner Jamie Ryan smelling truffles in the ground.
  • Utah the truffle hunting dog.
  • Lilly the truffle hunting dog with her handler Dalene Devonshire.
  • Truffles being washed.
  • Truffles from the farm.
  • Pumpkin soup with cream and truffles from the farm.
  • Selection of cured meats and truffles from the farm.
  • Lilly the truffle hunting dog
  • Lilly the truffle hunting dog with her handler Dalene Devonshire.

Chefs such as Lauren Murdoch from Three Weeds and Darren Templeman, owner of Restaurant Atelier, fossicked for black truffles on the Marulan property earlier in the truffle season.

"Last year we had just one truffle hunt for chefs. This season we had three. Considering the demand, next year we will have five," Ms Bahr said.

The latest group was accompanied by Duncan Garvey, the man who introduced truffle farming to Australia two decades ago.The group followed three-year-old kelpie, Lilly, as she darted between trees to smell out ripe truffles. Restaurateur Lisa Margan from Margan winery in the Hunter Valley was impressed by the strong and heady aroma of the fungi. She has featured black truffles on her winter menus to highlight the importance of seasonal produce.

Truffles from the farm.
The prize: Truffles were the target for chefs. Photo: Steven Siewert

At the farmhouse, Mr Ryan scrubbed 562 grams of dirty truffles under cold running water with a hard bristled brush.

"With such a fine and delicate ingredient it's not what you expect to do," he said. "It's almost like breaking the rules."