Truffles may be new on the menus of many local restaurants, but these dark and fragrant mushrooms have graced plates and pots across Europe since Roman times! Unlike their cousin the mushroom, these delicious but strange looking mushrooms are worth more than gold. While many types of truffles have never been domesticated (e.g. white truffles), there are three varieties of black truffles that have been successfully domesticated and are now growing even here in the United States. Learning how to grow truffles was a long process that didn't come into effect until the 1970s!
The first time I saw a truffle hunter was in the rolling hills of the province of Pisa, Italy, when I was working on a farm. He wore a hunter's hat, a dog jumped after him and carried a shotgun. My first thought was that he was a game hunter who hunted the pesky and plundering wild boars of the area. Instead, the farmer I worked with said to me, "No, he's hunting truffles, the shotgun is for thieves." These truffles are so precious that much about truffle growing and truffle hunting is shrouded in mystery.
The secret of the truffle has only come to light in the last few decades. We now know that truffles are distributed by humans and animals and that truffles actually depend on us to survive and thrive. In pre-industrial times and before the climate began to bring unusual rain patterns to their Italian and French habitats, there were many more truffles. The people lived on the outskirts of farms and wild, in villages that were scattered across the landscape.
Human activities, namely shepherding, gathering wood for fire, hunting, and traveling on foot, resulted in spores often being transported to new areas to colonize and grow. In addition, people's more frequent contact with nature increased their chances of finding stinging fungi. Our way of life has changed, fewer people live on the edge of the forest and even fewer regularly use earthen forest trails on their daily walks, which leads to a lower spread and fewer encounters with these delicious delicacies.
One thing that hasn't changed is the demand for this delicious treat. White truffles, the species that cannot be grown, can be sold at auctions for tens of thousands of dollars for as little as a pound or two. Usually smaller ones cost less. That's expensive, especially when you consider that the truffle itself only stays edible for a week before it goes bad! In fact, it was almost impossible to get fresh truffles in the United States until domestication occurred.
After centuries of experimentation, three varieties of black truffle were domesticated in the 1970s, meaning truffles can now be grown in the United States. It is not a fast growing plant. In fact, it can take a while for this slow-growing fungus to show up because it is dependent on the root zones of other trees. Truffles only grow under certain trees such as oak and beech. It can take several years for the roots of your truffle trees to colonize before the truffles attempt to reproduce and spread.
Everything about truffles
Learning how to grow truffles can be complex. Source: Cadratin
The wonderful scent of truffles can only be explained by their pheromones. These pheromones attract animals to dig around the base of the tree to look for the prize hidden there. Truffles are a type of fungus that live in the root system of certain trees. Although there are a wide variety of truffle subspecies, the easiest way to do this is to split them up into white and black truffles. Three varieties of black truffle have been domesticated and farmers can now rely on their harvest. White truffles are still wild and wild and are only produced in the wild.
Truffle or Tuber spp. occur naturally all over the world. However, the most famous European truffles come from Alba, Italy, and the neighboring provinces of Italy and France. Although there are truffles native to places like Oregon in the United States, these truffles still suffer from a PR problem, even though they taste as good, if not better, than some European truffles.
Truffle mushrooms grow in the root zones of trees in symbiosis with the trees. They colonize the root zone and transfer nutrients from the soil to the tree. This happens when the fungus sends out hyphae and retrieves nutrients to nourish the tree, and the tree in turn produces food through photosynthesis, which it shares with the fungus.
Trees and plants naturally participate in this reproductive process around the world and with a wide variety of mycorrhizas. It just so happens that this variety of mycorrhizal is delicious.
So when you grow truffles you are actually caring for two different plants. You need to take care of the host tree first and then take care of the secondary conditions that allow truffle spores to thrive in order for them to produce real truffles.
In a typical growing season in an established orchard, the host trees come out of their dormancy phase in spring and go through a growth spurt. Weeds and grass will attempt to invade the truffle area and will need to be hand pulled or machine cut. During this time, truffle colonies grow throughout the root zone, which help the tree to thrive. When summer and autumn approach and the truffle colonies had the right conditions, they begin to produce what we recognize as truffles. Depending on the variety, the harvest time begins in summer and continues into late winter. The truffles require several months of continuous rain (or watering), heat, and most importantly, sunlight in the root zone in order to produce and then ripen. Once a truffle has ripened, it can be harvested with the help of a truffle dog.
Truffles look like a mixture of a black golf ball and a lump of charcoal on the outside. The interior looks almost like cork and ranges in color from off-white to completely black. They are most commonly found at harvest time by dogs, rakes or, in centuries past, by pigs!
Types of truffles
Black truffles are more common than white truffles. Source: KatieTT
The bianchetto or the "poor relationship of the white truffle" is often confused with the white truffle with its creamy color. It looks like a lumpy white potato with dark brown spots on it. The Tuber albidum pico is less fragrant than its more desirable cousin and is harvested from January to April.
The French black winter truffle, the most famous of all truffles, with the exception of the white one, is also known as the black diamond of the table. The Tuber melanosporum vitt grows up to 2 feet underground and near oaks and hazelnuts. This is one of the more expensive and sought-after truffles. This tuber is also produced in Australia and sold in the northern hemisphere as the growing seasons are opposite and the demand never stops.
The Burgundy truffle or Tuber uncinatum is harvested from September to December and is usually slightly smaller than the French black. It is one of the strains that was bred and can fetch a good retail price. It is wonderful when infused in oil or added to a pasta dish.
The white truffle or Tuber magnatum is the wild truffle, it was not domesticated. It can only be produced in certain groves known only to professional truffle hunters and their dogs. While these truffles are mainly found in Italy, the production of this particular food has declined sharply due to the changing climate. As a sign of change, the business has mainly turned to growing truffles to maintain profitability.
While several truffles have been found in the US that are the same subspecies as their European counterparts, namely the Tuber melanosporum in Oregon, there are several other native varieties that grow in the United States and Canada. Although they are not yet made commercially, they are still known to be delicious. They may hit the market in the near future as the European crop continues to decline. In the United States, these are the tuber borchii in the Pacific Northwest and the tuber lyonii in Georgia. Both Tuber aestivum and Tuber canaliculatum have been found in Canada.
Plan your truffle garden
Young tree roots are inoculated with the fungal spores.
Planting a truffle plantation is a pretty big investment. It is also a gamble that, if it pays off, can be years before the farmer sees a return. Since truffles grow by colonizing a root system, the best way to grow a truffle garden is to use and care for inoculated seedlings from an early age. While some people have inoculated existing groves, this method is less productive and is declining in popularity because it does not result in fully ripe truffles when harvested.
Truffles can really be grown anywhere in the United States. Most importantly, they need constant watering and sunlight in the root zone over many growing seasons in order to produce.
When planning your orchard for the first time, clear the existing vegetation and level the terrain to make it passable for a tractor. Add lime and other soil improvers to increase the soil pH of the soil. This should take about two years and cannot be rushed. Make sure you add AgLime, not calcium carbonate, dolomite, or calcium hydroxide. Mix the lime into the soil to a depth of 18 inches and monitor the soil. Keep adding lime until you reach a soil pH between 7.5 and 8.
Next, mark your planting areas and install an irrigation system. It is important that watering is available from the start of your planting journey. Plant your trees and make sure that the soil is not over-compacted when backfilling the hole. While your truffle mycorrhizae will have a head start by colonizing the roots of an oak or other seedling, it's not a safe bet that they will continue to be the dominant variety of mycorrhizae once planted and allowed to live for several years. By making sure you have an adequate irrigation system for your seedlings, your wait will most likely not be in vain.
Use mechanical methods to remove weeds around your trees every spring and summer. Truffles need sunlight falling on the ground to grow, and the grass often found in orchards blocks that relationship. In smaller sections, it is best to weed by hand. Alternatively, use a mechanical weed killer or propane burner to remove weeds.
When choosing which type of seedling to use, be sure to do your research. Each type of truffle has its own preferences. In the United States, many farmers choose certain varieties of oak, beech, and hazelnut trees.
The mycorrhizae form a brule or bare space at the base of the trees.
Once your orchard is laid out, there isn't much else to do other than maintain adequate moisture in the grove, control weeds, and control pests. Most orchards take at least 3-7 years to begin production, so it can wait a bit.
During this time, most of the time spent could be pest-related. It is important to control pests that target your recently planted trees like ground squirrels or those that will eat your prized fungal primordia like slugs. Deer can eat saplings before the snow melts, and coyotes chew on irrigation pipes in search of water. Fighting these pests is an essential part of your truffle health. Try going through your groove once a week to check for pests.
Also, every spring, remove any weeds or grass that forms around the base of the tree. Growing truffles require sunlight to reach the base of their tree. Your truffle harvest needs this sunlight to fall to the ground in order to trigger its growth.
Avoid using pesticides on the ground at the foot of the trees or above your irrigation system. Growing truffles requires that their primordia stay alive even when you are not harvesting. Spraying chemicals can kill the truffle and damage the health of your tree. Clean the area around the base of the trees, making sure the soil is free of weeds up to the drip line. Over the years, you will have less and less grass to clear as a brule or clear area of soil forms under the tree. This is a sign that the fungus has colonized the roots extensively and is preparing for production.
The truffle mushroom thrives in well-drained, light soils with a soil pH value between 7.5-8. Avoid excessive walking, tractor use, or grazing animals between your vaccinated trees. While truffle spores need humans to spread, excessive compaction inhibits growth.
In the truffle vaccination, a fully grown truffle is taken and mixed with water. This mixture is then “fed” into the root zone of tree seedlings in a growth medium. However, this is not always successful, however it is necessary to look at some of the tree roots under a microscope to see if the root zone has been successfully inoculated.
Harvest and storage
Finely chopped truffles are a luxurious addition to food.
Truffle hunting is an art that is often done alone or with your dog. While truffles give off a pungent aroma that can be smelled from afar, without the olfactory triangulation skills of a trained truffle dog, pinpointing its exact location underground can be somewhat difficult.
The growing truffles are best located by trained truffle dogs. After they have been trained to do this, they sit with their paws directly over the truffle and their companion carefully digs through the ground to find the ripe truffle. When you're done, fill the earth and move on to your next hunt.
Alternatively, you can rake the roots of a tree to find truffles. However, this method is used less often as it can result in unripe truffles which are then wasted.
It can take up to a week if harvested direct from an orchard, but if purchased from a local supplier it will only take a day or two. All types of this delicious spore spoil within 5-7 days of harvest, so enjoy it quickly!
frequently asked Questions
The mycorrhizae form a brule or bare space at the base of the trees.
Q: How long does it take to grow truffles?
A: A truffle plantation can take up to 15 years to bear fruit, but it is possible that they will produce in around 5 years if well managed.
Q: How hard is it to grow truffles?
A: Truffles can be quite difficult to grow, especially because of the years of production delay.
Q: is it possible to grow truffles indoors?
Q: Where do truffles grow in the US?
A: Truffles grow all over the US, from Oregon to Texas to Arkansas. Above all, they need the right care, because that determines the success rate.
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