The Stonebarn story

29 May 2018

Perigord truffles are known among culinary circles as ‘black gold’, but the owners of leading Aussie trufferie, Stonebarn, explain how the fabulous fungus can become an everyday delicacy.

WORDS: Jessica Zoiti

When Dion Rangé and his wife Sharon purchased 160 acres of agricultural land in Western Australia’s Manjimup region, they weren’t quite sure what they’d do with it. A desire to raise free-range children unafraid of riding through mud or splashing in dams, combined with an instant attraction to the area’s beauty, was enough to seal the deal.

Dion and Lance from Stonebarn Truffles.

“(The farm) was inexpensive – relatively – but it wasn’t ideal for agriculture,” Dion begins, “but we loved the area. It’s hilly, it’s got the Warren River running through it, it’s got forest, so it seemed to suit our purposes.”

With a background in tourism, Dion’s instinct was to build a boutique lodge on the property. “Having spent time in Europe, I enjoyed a lot of the architecture, so we engaged West Australian architect Aviva Shpilman, who lived in Paris for 20 years, to design it for us,” he explains.

That lodge, called Stonebarn, is truly exquisite. Made from hand-cut stone and local timber, it offers six luxury suites, each with a four-poster bed, claw-foot bath and balcony overlooking the dam and onsite trufferie (more on that in a minute). Originally operating as a short-stay boutique getaway, the lodge is now exclusively reserved for weddings with couples able to choose from a number of unique ceremony and reception venues.

Like every romantic, Dion originally had visions of planting vines across his undulating property. Thankfully, he took heed of local growers’ advice.

“’Don’t do it’, they all said,” Dion laughs. “At the time, the wine market was already over supplied, which was disappointing because I’ve always pictured myself sitting with friends, sipping our own wine.”

Then a colleague and former CSIRO scientist suggested Dion consider planting a trufferie. He explained that Dr. Nick Malajczuk – largely considered a pioneer of WA’s truffle industry – was successfully inoculating trees with truffles on a property not far from Stonebarn. That was enough to pique Dion’s interest.

“For lack of anything better, and the realisation that at worst, we’d have a lovely oak forest on our property one day, we planted a 2000-tree trufferie,” he explains, adding that today (after plenty of trial and error and steep learning curves), Stonebarn is the country’s fourth largest producer of truffles.

“We’re going to have a lot of truffles this season – we’re growing bigger and bigger quantities of very good quality fresh truffle, and that increases year-on-year,” Dion enthuses. “Having said that, it takes a long time to get to the point where you’re growing a lot of truffles.”

With production doubling and sometimes tripling each year, Stonebarn needed to take its business to the next level. A new partnership with friend and experienced businessman, Lance Schaffer, gave Dion the resources to do so. With Lance taking care of the company’s sales, distribution, logistics and pricing, Dion now concentrates his energy on growing his trufferie and developing new products.

After spending a year in development, Stonebarn’s fresh black Perigord-infused truffle products were successfully launched into the market eight months ago.

“There’s a range of cheaper black truffles, like the Italian summer truffle, but the black Perigord truffle is the most expensive black truffle you can get because it’s firmer, more scare, fragrant and delicate,” explains Lance.

“What makes our products different in the market is that we only use high quality black Perigord truffles grown on our farm (most truffle-infused products are either made with faux truffle oil, or an inferior black truffle).”

This means that by drizzling Stonebarn truffle oil over scrambled eggs, stirring truffle-infused pasta sauce through pasta, adding truffle mustard to your hotdog, coating roasted chicken in truffle salt or dipping crispy fresh chips into truffle mayonnaise (among myriad other ideas) you can enjoy the subtle, delicate flavor of fresh truffle with almost any meal.

“Ironically, simple products – simple foods – are the best for truffle products. Like scrambled eggs,” says Dion, adding that the same goes for fresh truffles. “It it’s a simple food, the fresh truffle will complement it very well, and it really doesn’t have to be complicated. You can use truffle products from absolutely everything – even in sweet things like ice cream.”

And the range is ever growing. Currently, a truffle spice mix and truffle-infused butter are next to join the Stonebarn line-up.

“When we make something, we don’t know if people are going to like it or not. We have no idea, but when people start saying, ‘wow, that’s amazing’, for me that’s where the enjoyment comes from,” admits Lance, while Dion gets a kick out of seeing the range grow.

“I think you can pretty much stick truffle with anything edible, or consumable, so its’ very exciting that there’s a lot of potential that hasn’t yet been fulfilled.”

 

Want to try Stonebarn’s delicious range of truffle-infused products? Find them in-store at The Black Truffle. stonebarntruffles.com.au