Haggling in the market, they soon became experts, getting to know the best local sources, and spotting the true quality behind the mystique. ‘They are shady characters, the truffle hunters’, Nigel laughs. ‘It’s a dark art. They’ll tell you, passionately: every single one of them is convinced that their truffles, from their little tiny micro-area, are the best in the world.’
They began by choosing the best fresh, seasonal truffles in the region, and selling them to a select group of food lovers back in the UK. ‘We picked up a couple of top chefs, as well, who really loved what we were doing.’
But running a business from the mountains was always going to be a challenge. Snowdrift winters and no internet connection all made it tricky, but as well as sourcing fresh truffles, they knew that there was more that could be done.
Creating the first TruffleHunter products
‘I realised there was an opportunity to create a branded fresh truffle and truffle product business,’ Nigel explains. ‘No one else was doing it in the UK.
‘If I could make it affordable, brand it in English, tell people how to use it…that was what created the original idea.
‘We started experimenting with olive oil and dried truffles and developed a truffle oil. We spent about six months in Italy, working on the branding and on our first couple of products. Once we had that, we moved back to the UK and set up a small operation in Poole Keynes just outside Cirencester.’
Then one of the top chefs recommended TruffleHunter to James Wellock. Taking over the running of this food service distributor at the time James saw the potential of having an own label truffle oil. Visiting Nigel and Omi in Italy, James helped develop the recipe getting some of his chefs to taste it.
James ‘Bob’ Parkinson, the Michelin-award-winning chef and restaurateur behind Made By Bob, was one of several professionals who helped develop the TruffleHunter range. ‘He’s got a phenomenal understanding of food,’ says Nigel. ‘I’d take him products and he would say, “A little bit more of this, a little bit less of that.” He was a great help, definitely.’
So after making a few tweaks the first product was born providing the breakthrough Nigel and Omi needed to get the business off the ground.