Dion Rangé is a self-confessed romantic and had a strong vision when dreaming of his future that involved sipping a glass of his own wine created from grapes off his own property then sharing the bottle with friends. Quickly though, he was talked out of that dream when he canvassed the local growers who felt the wine market was oversupplied at that point in time. Luckily, the idea morphed when he was introduced to Dr. Nick Malajczuk – largely considered a pioneer of WA’s truffle industry- who was successfully growing truffles on a property not far away.
Just as with wine, the natural environment is critical when it comes to considering the suitability of a site when considering embarking on the planting of a trufferie. The soil type, soil quality, weather conditions, and a whole host of other factors affect the likelihood of success. Dion and his family decided to take the leap, saying “at worst, we’d have a lovely oak forest on our property one day”. In 2004 they planted 2000 trees, and low and behold, they found their first truffle on June 5th, 2010.
Their operation has expanded over the years, and now they’re the country’s third largest private producer of truffles. Dion and his team have gone through a lot of trial and error to get to where they are today, and now share their expertise yearly with a ‘how-to’ session during the truffle season.
Stonebarn is a property that speaks for itself. Primarily known as a stunning destination wedding venue, those who visit know of the undeniable charm and character of the lodge as well as the greater property. The building is quietly perched upon the edge of the dam, flanked by tall trees and looks as if it rose right out of the ground. The structure is crafted from hand-cut stone and local timber, offering six luxury suites adorned with four-poster beds, claw foot baths and the sweetest dormer windows allowing you to gaze upon the undulating trufferie below.
Truffles are a global business, and dealing with international clients is no sweat for Dion, having operated a tourism company in South Africa that provided tours of the country for groups of incoming tourists. With many game reserves on his books, Dion provided a range of wild experiences for brave visitors. Dion met his wife Sharon, a third generation West Australian, and made the move to Australia in 2000. They decided to purchase the Stonebarn property after many camping holidays, wanting to own their own piece of land where their children could spend holidays getting dirty and experiencing nature.
Dion says that he lives two lives, one in Perth with his wife and two sons, and one in the Southern Forests, on the ground at Stonebarn. “We are truly blessed with what this area has to offer. I can’t think of a better place in the world to be farming”. Dion loves the freshness of spring, which signals the end of the truffle season, when the rain has subsided, and the region is bursting with new life and sunshine. Being outdoors, breathing the cold fresh air, and ending the day dirty and sweaty signals a life well spent.
The French Périgord Black Truffle (Tuber melanosporum) grows amongst the root system of an inoculated tree. As seedlings, the roots of the tree are washed with a solution that contains spores of the truffle, then the seedling is planted. The tree must mature, so after approximately 5-7 years of growth the tree is large enough to support the symbiotic relationship with the truffle, and with the right soil conditions and a bit of luck, truffles will grow. The tree and the truffle work together swapping vital nutrients, each benefiting from the partnership.
Truffles are in season during the Australian winter months of June, July and August, when the ‘fruit’ ripens. Being a type of fungi, they have a hyphal system called mycelium which is a network of threads, like roots. What we know as the truffle, the recognisably knobbly ball, is the fruit. If not harvested, the truffle will degrade and eventually disperse into a large number of spores, which then travel and germinate, producing new mycelium and in turn, more truffles.
During the winter months, truffle is harvested once per week for the duration of the season. Loyal dogs Peri, Dougie and Hazel work hard to sniff for the ripe truffles, signaling to Dion when they’ve located some buried gold. The truffles are then cleaned, graded, packed and shipped to their freight forwarders at the airport to ensure the truffle is received as fresh as possible. Locally, truffles are delivered in eskies directly from the farm throughout Australia.
Truffles grown in the Southern Forests region are known world-wide, giving the European growers a run for their money. The mature truffiere here can be more productive than French and Spanish truffiere by a factor of 10. Up to 95% of Stonebarn’s fresh truffles are sold internationally, but don’t worry, there’s plenty available for the Australian market.
The Stonebarn team has worked hard to ensure a high standard of food safety management and product quality and have been recognised with an HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certification. They pride themselves on the exceptional quality, taste and aroma of their truffles, which they say is attributed to their rich, sloping and free draining loam soils that create the ideal terroir.
They have been able to guarantee this consistent quality after developing their own fertiliser and soil conditioner products. Dion has found great success with the use of both products on the trufferie, after trials on two underperforming blocks. After ongoing use, the two test blocks became the best performing sections in the trufferie. Dion’s team saw yield almost double from 2020 to 2021 as a result of this Stonebarn-developed solution. This fertiliser and soil regenerator is now available commercially, in addition to inoculated truffle trees which Stonebarn also sells to people establishing new trufferies.
Alongside fresh truffle, Stonebarn has crafted a range of value-added gourmet truffle products including Truffle Oil, Truffle Aioli and even Truffle Beer! At time of writing Stonebarn have 17 products in the range and are always testing and researching more exciting combinations. Their gourmet range launched in 2017 and they love hearing the fantastic feedback that comes from retailers and customers. Several top venues across Australia are using Stonebarn products on a large scale, including Nobu, the Japanese fine dining powerhouse created by internationally renowned Chef, Nobu Matsuhisa.
Photographs supplied by Stonebarn.