30 July 2023

Taking a chance on truffles, farmers hit paydirt as exports gather steam

| Claire Sams
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man and woman with truffles

Fiona Kotvojs and husband Alan took a chance on truffles, and now they’re exporting to the US. Photo: Gourmet Coast Trail.

A decision made more than a decade ago is paying off for two Far South Coast farmers with international plans.

Fiona Kotvojs, who founded and owns Gulaga Gold Truffiere with husband Alan, said they had been working for 11 years to grow their dreams into reality.

“I grew up in Dignams Creek, and when I came home from working away, what I wanted to do was try and make our farm financially viable for the next generation,” she said.

“We came up with four pages of ideas, but we ultimately came down to two possibilities – and truffles ended up being the one that we felt was the most likely to be viable for us and for this area.”

The pair is now exporting to the US after previously selling through a consolidator in Melbourne.

“This year, our production has just gone through the roof – it’s at least tripled, if not more,” Ms Kotvojs said.

“As a result of that, we needed to find another market to send our truffles to because the local market just wouldn’t be able to absorb them all, and so we went back to the American market that we’ve been involved with before.

“Because our production now is much higher than before, we’re able to send them directly to the US market.”

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Ms Kotvojs and her husband work with a person in America to manage the weekly exports.

“What we do is we harvest the truffles for them over the weekend, then clean, grade and package them and drive them up to Canberra and put them on the plane,” she said.

“They go on the plane by 4:30 pm on Mondays, and they get to him at 2 am on Fridays.”

Ms Kotvojs said there was a strong demand intentionally for their truffles.

“We’re off-season when compared to the Northern Hemisphere, so there is a big demand for truffles that we produce, in both the US and Europe,” she said.

“The US market has been really pleased with our truffles, which have a really high quality in terms of the flavour.”

There has also been demand within Australia, with fellow Far South Coast businesses such as Tilba Real Dairy and Sapphire Smokehouse getting involved with truffle-related products.

“These things create employment opportunities into the future and diversify the value that the region gets out of the truffles,” Ms Kotvojs said.

“For us, that’s a really important benefit as well.”

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Ms Kotvojs said that despite some initial disbelief from theirs, they persevered.

“When we put them in, we were told we were complete idiots because it wasn’t the right environment here for truffles,” she said.

“But we’d done a lot of research and felt there were various sections of the area down here that would be fine, and one section of our farm would be OK for truffles.

“We are still the only commercial truffiere on the coast, though some people have them for hobbies.”

Truffles stood out as a possibility to diversify the South Coast’s agricultural offerings, she said.

“I think people are really excited to see that there are other crops that may help to make farming the area more viable, especially for farms that don’t have the size or the soil quality to be really viable beef or dairy farms.

“For us, we really wanted to prove truffles are something that can work, and also create opportunities for the future.”

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