For centuries part of the enigma of truffles is that no-one knew where they would turn up, or even if they would turn up. Come autumn hunters would head off with their pigs in a general direction where they had harvested before and hope for the best.
It wasn’t until the early 1800s when Frenchman Joseph Talon decided to sow acorns at the foot of truffle-producing oak trees that cultivating the prized fungi became successful. The host plant’s truffle fungus infected the roots of the seedling and the seedling was then transplanted to a new location. His experiments resulted in large harvests of truffles across France.
However two World Wars and massive industrialisation across Europe saw truffle production drop from nearly 2,000 tons in 1890 to about 40 tons at present. In an effort to revive the industry scientists became involved and began inoculation seedling roots with germinating truffle spores.
Millions of truffle trees have been planted in Europe using this method, however truffle production is still declining.
Most truffle infected trees sold in New Zealand are produced using the spore germination method.
How we infect trees at Canterbury Truffles
At Canterbury Truffles we use the Talon method to infect seedlings. We have worked on perfecting our use of the Talon method for a number of years and can now reliably produce commercial quantities of trees with high levels of Black truffle infection living on the roots.
We believe the Talon method is superior to the spore germination method for a number of reasons.
- The Talon method has demonstrated its ability to develop a viable truffle industry in France while the spore germination method has yet to show it can resurrect the French truffle industry.
- The Talon method is reproducing selected proven strains of truffle, while in the spore germination methods you are not sure of the strain of truffle you will get. Compare it to planting an orchard from grafted trees verses planting one from the seeds or pips extracted from fruit bought at the supermarket. Which is likely to be more productive?
- There is growing debate that the symbiotic relationship that produces truffles is not limited to just the tree and the fungus – there may be other organisms that are present in the soil of the host tree. Using the Talon Method, the seedlings have the same environment that is successfully producing truffles.
Competing fungi are a real risk for truffieres. It’s believed that the risk is greater using the Talon method, however at Canterbury Truffles seedlings are grown in a very clean site. Root tests have been undertaken and little or no competing fungus is present on the trees used for seedling production.
We also conduct double root inspections and DNA testing to reduce this risk.
What do I need for my own truffiere?
With a good climate, the right soil and proper cultivation procedures, Black Perigord truffles will grow on the right host tree.
At Canterbury Truffles, we have chosen to use hazel and varieties of oak which are some of the most favoured hosts for truffle production. We use
•Evergreen Oak (Quercus Ilex)
•English Oak (Quercus Robur)
•Hazel (Corylus Abellana)
We suggest a mixed species planting in a truffiere. Hazels, which have a 50 year lifespan are quicker growing trees and will start to produce sooner than the slow-growing oaks. Oaks, which require less pruning and overall maintenance but which take their time to produce could potentially sustain truffle production for well over a hundred years.
The hazel trees can be removed once production starts to decline, which also provides spacing for the maturing oak trees.