By Amy Reiley
The Napa Truffle Festival was created by American Truffle Company’s Robert Chang. As partner in one of America’s fastest growing truffle cultivators, Chang, as a part of this morning’s activities, offered an in-depth seminar with insight into what it would take to become a truffle farmer, (sounds like a pretty good career–as far as farming goes, doesn’t it?) Here goes:
To be economically viable, you need to start out with an orchard of saplings (that have been inoculated with the truffle organism). The best host trees are oak and filbert. Yes, you can inoculate mature trees but it is not as effective-you’ll get a much smaller yield than starting with an orchard of saplings.
Truffles are cultivated successfully in a wide variety of climates, (from Napa to Tennessee). But there are only 3 species readily cultivated and have commercial value:
1. Black Winter (Perigord) Truffle
2. Burgundy Truffle
3. Bianchetto Truffle
(Sadly, Italian white truffles cannot–or at least have not yet–been successfully cultivated.)
The best climates for Perigord Truffles are Mediterranean. They do need warmth, light and free-draining soil with a high pH (7.9). (American Truffle Company works with their clients to ensure proper growing conditions before planting and, of course, maintaining the proper conditions as the orchard matures.)
The Burgundy Truffle thrives in cooler regions (like Canada and Scandinavia) and grow well in high density. They are tolerant to a wide variety of soil types. They’re quicker to fruit than Perigord Truffles but their price per lb is lower.
The Bianchetto likes sandy soil and works in a variety of climates.
In climates with little to no summer rain, American Truffle Company works to figure out water requirements, so depending on the geographical region, irrigation may be required for optimal yields.
Orchards should be organic and fertilizer free to produce the best truffles. And a good size for a truffle orchard is 3-5 acres. (American Truffle Company has planted smaller orchards but Robert recommends something in this range.)
Unfortunately, you cannot use land that was formerly forest.
Plan on 4-5 years from planting before you’ll have truffles on your table.
I know there are still skeptics out there when the topic of truffle cultivation comes up. And, of course taste is the issue. Can you taste the difference between cultivated and wild? In response, I’ll ask another question: Did you know that 90% of France’s truffles are cultivated?