Sniff out the Truffle Discovery Centre

Conan in action.

By Tania Phillips

Everyone has their own little story and Matt Hibberd from the Truffle Discovery Centre Stanthorpe has a good one.

From security guard to dog trainer to creating a centre where people can come taste, smell, feel and learn about truffles and other gourmet foods sourced from local, regional and global produce. Where you can taste and buy the Granite Belt Gourmet range including jams, chutneys, relishes, sauces and balsamics – not bad for a business which started with “a man with his arm in a dog’s mouth”.

Of course, it’s not just his story – it’s a shared family and work family experience and from chatting with him for a while you know he’d stress that he’s not the whole story but Matt and his passion for life and following it where it takes you is at the centre of it.

Because the Truffle Discovery Centre is a story of passion – something you hear in Matt’s voice when he talks about the first time (and every time since) that one of his dogs sniffed out a truffle – a moment of whooping and cheering. It’s there when he talks about the Centre’s staff, teens starting their first jobs, older wiser heads over 70 working in the shop. It’s there when he talks about the rescue dogs that become truffle dogs working a couple of weeks a year and enjoying the good life.

He is passionate about Stanthorpe, the area he moved to with his family to set up his Law Dog business and display and of course he’s passionate about the produce from the region – the reason he and his team will be part of truffle day at this year’s Apple and Grape Festival.

“A visit to our interactive centre also includes seeing real truffles either fresh or frozen from last year,” Matt explained in a mock tour guide voice that has us both giggling because our chat was fun, honest and informative.

“As part of Apple and Grape we will also be part of cooking demonstrations in town. So, the chefs will be showing the visitors how to use truffles in their cooking and then people have a chance to jump on a bus and come and do the farm tour. We’ll give them a talk and tour of the Display Truffiere and then some dog training demos. We’ll show off the stars of the industry, which are the dogs finding the truffles.

“Then of course there will be product tasting. People can see a whole range of truffle and non truffle condiments as well as visiting our tasting gallery. It’s very immersive, bookending. I call it immersive but young people call it 360.

“I think the other connection (to the festival) will be that while it’s the French Black Perigord Truffle that is mainly grown in Australia people are also trying to grow the Italian White Truffle which ties back to the region’s Italian heritage through the fruit growers. So I think there is going to be good cultural connections there too. It’s one of those things, truffles are very niche, they need super cold climates and this is the only place in Queensland that they grow. Grapes and things are in other areas. So, it is very special to the Granite Belt and it is an immersive experience.

“And I believe in not just a product on the shelf, I want to see, touch, smell, taste, I want the full deal. I think we provide that in a really good setting and we’re really excited to be part of Apple and Grape. I think we all need a good news story at the moment, I think it will be great just to bring the town together and have a party at the moment.”

And it’s not just a chance for the local’s to party, it’s also a chance for people outside the region to get up close to where there food comes from and how it’s grown and by who. Matt said since Covid things like Providores and Carbon Kilometres have become very important to consumers.

“I think the fact that we have all this in Brisbane’s backyard is very important and this festival gives you a chance that when you come and walk the main street of Stanthorpe you will probably stand in line at the bakery next to an apple grower, you will come and meet – at a market stall – the guy that trains the sniffer dogs and our kids that label the jars and bottles,” he explained.

“I think it’s very important we have that connection to growers and we know where the food is coming from, we know how it’s being produced and grown.

“I’m a very passionate advocate for small business, I think at the moment, more than ever, people really want to walk in and meet the grower, meet the kid that trims the vines, meet the kid that picks the apple.

“You can’t get that at the Hunter Valley and other areas, it is very commercial. As much as Stanthorpe’s grown up a lot since I’ve been here and improved in it’s offerings, I think it’s important (pardon the pun) that we stay with those roots. And I think it’s really important that people get to come and meet the grower.

“I think this is a really, really important Apple and Grape this year for a lot of reasons.”

And of course in the case of truffles we’ve probably all heard of them, seen recipes but never had a chance to actually taste one and work out if we like them without the pressure of being in a fancy restaurant and having to fork out a lot of money (money we might not want to spend on something we don’t know we will like).

“We see them on cooking shows every week, but people don’t know what they look like, they don’t know if it’s a mushroom or part of the mushroom family,” Matt added passionately.

“But people don’t know what it tastes like or how they are going to react. For some it’s a really really interesting experience when you can come and do it all for free. When you can come and check truffles out.

“And the fact that you than learn little insider secrets. We talk about other growing areas, we actually show people pictures of marbling and how you can tell if it’s ripe or not. I think it’s an “edu-tainment” kind of concept that is more than google, it’s not just on the screen you can come and touch it, taste it, smell it, see it. It is a really good concept.”

Find them at 335 Church Rd The Summit, North of Stanthorpe or come along and see Matt and his family at the Apple and Grape Festival, Truffle Day.