Two things inspired Nigel, Managing Director of Truffle Hunter, to realise his dream of running his own business: a passion for cooking, and the dream of starting his own creative venture. In 2007 Nigel and his Australian born wife, Omi, said their goodbyes to the corporate world and headed to the home of fine food: Italy.
From an ancient farmhouse, high in a national park in the mountains of Umbria, Nigel and Omi planted 250 grape vines and over 50 olive trees then began researching oil pressing and tasting. Hot summers and snowdrift winters followed before he found his big idea…
Born in the wild heart of Italy
The Sibillini mountains are a rare, wild place. High in the woods, you’ll see glimpses of deer and wild boar, and hear the calling of the wolves as dusk comes down. Low on the forest floor, orchids are everywhere mixed in with amazing alpine flowers. Lakes and pools in the hollows of the hills tail off into the distance.
But it was in the local market where Nigel and Omi stumbled upon the region’s biggest treasure. This was where the region’s experts would sell the local white truffles. ‘It was so unusual, I’d never come across one before,’ says Nigel, ‘so we started buying truffles from the local hunters, eating them, cooking with them – we were fascinated by them.’
Truffles are a wild, foraged food – they need the purest, most undisturbed environment in which to grow. The old farmhouse Nigel and Omi lived in just happened to be in one of the best truffle regions in the world.
Becoming the UK’s leading truffle brand
Today, TruffleHunter offers a range of delicious foods that blend real truffles with carefully chosen ingredients. These chef-quality products are affordable enough for food lovers to enjoy at home. Like our customers, we love trying something new – so you’ll find our favourite truffles matched with creamy farmhouse Double Gloucester, authentic balsamic vinegar, or sea salt from the Cornish coast.
We source truffles from all over Europe. We sell directly, or through others, to restaurants and retail outlets throughout the UK. All our truffle products are produced in small batches in the UK.
If there’s one problem with a unique range of products, it’s finding something to compare it to. ‘Maybe premium chocolate, or premium gin?’ suggests Nigel.
And if you’ve never experienced truffles before, it’s time to start a TruffleHunter adventure of your own. As Nigel explains: ‘We meet people who have never tried them and are wary of them. A lot of people have tried them and absolutely love them. There don’t seem to be many people in between…’
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.