Growing the elusive truffle

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Oak trees planted 400 to the acre, waiting for truffles to grow on their roots.

The excursion this afternoon was to a truffle farm.  For as long as men have enjoyed the truffle, they had to find it in the wild.  Modern science is changing that, and now oak saplings can be inoculated with truffle spores, and in 10 years or so the tree has a very good chance of being a host for the expensive fungus.  It’s not an exact science, and not every variety of truffle can be created, but it’s a big start on the domestication of the aromatic delight we love.

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The owner of the farm, Gilles, came out to give his talk on the history of his industry.  He is both a grower and a broker, shipping, he told us, 5000 tons of truffles a year all over the world.  He grows black truffles, and the less expensive white summer truffles. The hideously expensive white winter truffles cannot yet be cultivated and are all found in the wild.

What we were all interested in, of course, was the harvesting process. So Gilles called for his  two trained Labrador receivers to show us how it is done.  Although pigs used to be the preferred hunters, it’s hard to convince a pig to give up the truffle once she (and all truffle hunting animals are female) finds it.  The Labs can be trained to trade the golf ball sized treasure for a biscuit, and they’re easier to get in the car, too.

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The 3 year old is on a leash, the 4 month old puppy follows everywhere

Gilles currently has a 3 year old, and a puppy still being trained at 4 months.  He gets the puppies at 9 weeks and immediately starts to teach them.  They work in the field with a handler who guides them and provides treats when things go right.

After a bit of hunting, not successful because the season is really over and there aren’t many truffles to be found, we went inside the farmhouse for a tasting.

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Those black truffles wholesale for €1500 per kilo.

They sliced the truffles into thin slivers, then covered them with olive oil and sea salt.

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Putting them on a slice of bread, we had quite a treat

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We had some very friendly visitors while we tasted–the two working dogs and a retired truffle dog living with the family.

Truffles are grown in Oregon and places on the East Coast, where the weather is moderate and cool.  Lafayette is too warm, or I’d be teaching Claudia to root around for treasure.

There was a gift shop, naturally, where you could buy truffles or truffle oil.  I bought the oil, perfect for flavoring scrambled eggs or pasta.

The day was a delight.  Our hosts were pleasant and taught us quite a bit about an interesting subject.  The dogs were cute.  The truffles were great.  The French countryside is beautiful as we drove the huge bus down tiny one lane roads, sharing with tractors, trucks, cars and bicycles.

And we’ll have more fun tomorrow.

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