One of my favorite food memories is from nearly twenty years ago, during the first days of ‘freedom’ after a long summer season working 18 hour days on a yacht in the Mediterranean. The absolute joy of finally getting to sit, relax, and eat, after standing to devour food for weeks on end. It was in a café in Saint Tropez where I ordered truffles on toast for the first time, just lots of freshly shaved truffle on beautiful fresh bread with olive oil and salt and pepper. Simple and still my favorite way to eat them.
Truffle Farming came up the other day when a group of us were talking about finding truffle products locally. Nola D’Enis (culinary guide and writer), was mentioning a local truffle tree farm (truffiere) that she had written about it a few years ago called Agri-Truffe. So, seeing as they were only 20 minutes from where I lived, I decided to pay them a visit. I had been writing about truffles in Dordogne (the epicenter for France) and decided to go a different route, what if you want to start your own truffle farm? Here are the experiences of three different people who started black Périgord truffle farms – Alain Fabregues in Australia, Casey Angeolva in Bulgaria, and Loic Luzinier in France.
At the end, you will find handy tips and advice on purchasing truffles and links to find out more information and continue your own research.
One cold, rainy day recently I went to visit Antoine Bouffard who works at Agri-Truffe in Saint-Maixant, Gironde who was kind enough to step out into the elements to share with me some of the history of the business and subsequently, the history of the truffle. Agri-Truffe is the largest and oldest producer for truffle trees in the world and produced around 160,000 trees last year alone. The company was created fifty years ago in 1972 in partnership with l’INRA (Institut national de la recherche agronomique) to expand the range of truffles, seeing as the species had been in decline since WWII.
Agri-Truffe utilize mycorrhization, the symbiotic relationship between a fungus (the truffle) and tree roots. The root provides sugars to the spores and the spores in return create the fungus that bring water and minerals to the tree. This works especially well with different oaks and hazelnut trees, but also on other less traditional species like pine and linden trees (which are sold in their online store or direct at the farm). All tree roots are controlled multiple times to verify the presence of truffle spores from the inoculation before being sold.
A positive side-effect of the devastative phylloxera crisis in the mid-19th century was the abundance of new, young forests. Oaks started growing in what were abandoned vineyards and 15 years later, truffles appeared…in abundance. Truffles were eaten more regularly, like cepes mushrooms are consumed today. However, the production, and thus consumption, took a massive cut after WWII. Before the war, production of the black Perigord truffle was near 1000 tonnes a year in France, after the war production came to only 60 tonnes, and has never really recovered. There are many reasonings to this drastic change. On the short term, the movement of people moving from the countryside to cities lead to the abandonment of already neglected truffle farms. Industrial farming greatly reduced the number of grazing animals, which ate through top growth on the soil and allowed the sunlight through, which truffles needed. There was also the introduction of poisonous herbicides and pesticides.
Thanks to the concerted efforts by the state and truffle farms like Agri-Truffe, today we see a gradual yearly increase in production…all over the world. In SW France, historically, the place to find truffles would be the Périgord Noir in Dordogne with it’s perfect ‘terroir‘ or unique environmental factors. Today, you would find the majority of black Perigord truffles in France actually come from Spain, where they grow very well but are not as appreciated, nor used as much in local cuisine.
Black Perigord truffles are thriving on other continents as well. Maybe the soil will have to be worked before planting the trees, or additional nutrients put into the soil, or hydration systems. Where I live, near the Graves, there are too many rocks at the surface, which force the roots to grow downwards. The roots of the trees, where the truffles will grow from, need to grow horizontally and close to the surface. Sandy soil is ideal, as well as a high concentration of calcium (calcaire in French). This can be added to soils. There are a few truffle farms in Gironde and the Lot-et-Garonne, but these are the exception and not the rule. This is an evolving science with laboratories, like at Agri-Truffe, working hard every day to uncover the secrets of the mysterious truffle.
Antoines recipe for making your own truffle brie :
¼ of BRIE DE MEAUX
1 small container of mascarpone cheese
60 gr of truffles
Cut the brie into two halves (top and bottom), exposing the soft inside. Spread the mascarpone on each half, then grate 40g of the truffle (with a microplane ideally) onto the mascarpone. With the remaining 20g of truffle, shave it onto the mascarpone to add more texture. Stick the two pieces of cheese back together and close with plastic wrap, leaving in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours to allow the truffle to infuse the cheese thoroughly. Take out of the refrigerator at least two hours before eating. Voila!
I highly recommend a visit to this truffle tree nursery if you are interested in starting your own truffle farm, as the knowledge shared is invaluable and the people who work there are incredibly accessible / Agri-Truffe / 8 Route du Portail Rouge, 33490 Saint-Maxiant / +33 (0)5 56 62 09 62 / Agri-Truffe – Leader mondial des arbres mycorhizés par la truffe or their YouTube page Agri-Truffe – YouTube
Alain Fabregues, based in Western Australia (WA), is a native of the Bordeaux region who might most famously be known for his incredible skills in the kitchen. He is a well known French chef, achieved MOF status, has been twice knighted by past French presidents, and is the former chef/owner of celebrated restaurant ‘The Loose box’ in Mundaring (now closed). After 55 years in the kitchen he is ‘retired’ and living life as a truffle farmer, hosting private dinners on the estate, and using the pandemic to experiment with truffle preservation…chefs don’t do a quiet retirement.
As a chef, he took an interest in truffle farming in WA back in 1996, when most people would have said this was impossible. The dry, red, land of Western Australia certainly didn’t resemble the mountainous, green and wet terrain of the Perigord. AS well, no truffles had ever been found growing naturally. Today, Australia is one of the largest producers of Perigord black truffles, only after France, Spain and Italy.
Alain currently owns a truffle farm of 1,300 truffled oaks and grows uniquely the black Perigord truffle, or tuber melanosporum. He has experimented with white truffles, tuber magnatum, but with no success thus far. Alain was introduced to truffle czar Babeth and Pierre Jean Pebeyre by Landais fois gras producer Jean Rougier in 1989. The original spores on Alain’s farm came from La Société Pebeyre de Cahors, through Babeth and Pierre Jean Pebeyre, who have also come multiple times to WA to visit.
What he found interesting was the speed in which trees tended to produce, in comparison to Europe. Whereas a tree in France could take 10 years or more, the trees in Australia were producing after only four years. Some, like his friend Fabio Fieto, produced in three years. Selling his truffles is simple, besides the obvious quality of the product, the season in Australia is the opposite to France and the Northern Hemisphere…allowing fresh truffles to be on menus year-round.
Covid has been less harsh to Australia with many currently living life almost normally, but the effects on restaurants has still been dire. This has impacted the truffle market, leaving many unsold or farmers simply harvesting less in order to avoid wastage. It has been seen as the best year for truffle production ever in Australia. Oh the irony. Alain says, “My friends at Oak Valley last year produced 2.3 tonnes and they expected about 4 tonnes this year. They stopped harvesting at 8.6 tonnes and left the rest of the truffles in the ground. The freezers are full (but) the market is not there. I work with them on preserving research and I have jars full of truffles macerated in JaJa.”
The future of truffles in Australia is bright and surely will recover from 2020. It is interesting is to see this product, which is considered so uniquely French, to take root in such varied terroirs successfully. Even with the challenges of finding water, which is by far is the most pressing challenge in Australia, Alain reports that “The production of my state is more than 18tonnes this year alone and with the massive plantations that are getting built the price of truffles will automatically come down. The best scenario of truffle production in Europe has been 100kg per hectare we now are at more than 1 tonne per hectare and our industry is only 20 years old.”. Incredible.
If you would like to purchase truffles from Alain Fabregues farm Toodyay truffles Company or TTC / email@example.com
Casey Angelova and her husband Angel Angelov live in Bulgaria with their two daughters and son in a town not too far from their farm called Angelove Estate, which just happens to have 800 trees which have been inoculated with black French truffles.
Casey, who is originally from Brooklyn NY, used to work in television production and worked on shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Conan. When she first moved to Bulgaria, her goal was to continue working in television while living in her new home, but that changed after working for a few years in a rather uninspiring position. Her mind needed a new project, something she was truly passionate about. Luckily, she is married to someone who is incredibly supportive of her initiatives.
In 2011, Casey attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and worked weekends in NYC at some of the most prestigious restaurants with chefs from Thomas Keller to Dan Barber, and Alice Waters – who is one of her chef idols. She lived for one year away from her family, with her husband and children visiting when they could and joining her in the summer. She immersed herself into the thriving culinary scene of NYC.
During her time in culinary school, it became rather obvious that working in restaurants was not in her future, but the love for food and the culinary world continued. Upon her return to Bulgaria, she spoke about her idea to have a farm and plant truffle trees, after learning that they grow naturally in the area while reading ‘Taming the Truffle’. Much of Bulgaria’s truffles are summer truffles and, as the Bulgarian market is limited to due interest and purchasing power, the majority end up sold in Italy (largest consumer of Bulgarian truffles).
This is where her trip to Bordeaux to meet Damien Berlureau and buy trees from Agri-Truffle started. Agri-Truffle has one of the most prestigious truffle tree productions in the world and just happens to be located in Saint Maixant, Gironde. In 2016, Damien also brought her to visit multiple truffle farms during her stay, to see the different styles of truffle farming to decide what was right for her project. Casey is a huge francophone and while she was here in the area was able to visit the Arcachon Bay and eat oysters, as well as practice her French, which she continues to work on mastering.
They planted hazelnut trees, inoculated with French truffle spored trees in 2013, a truffle species not native to Bulgaria but more valued in the market. They received their first harvest in 2018 and recently found their largest black truffle to date – a 185g truffle the size of your palm, sent to someone who purchased it for their birthday. Of the 800 trees planted, so far only 20 of the hazelnut trees have produced. None of the 15 evergreen oaks or ‘chene verte’ have produced so far (classic trees for truffle production in France).
Right now, Casey is working on truffle education, offering tours and cooking classes. You can even go truffle hunting with their two dogs, Claire and Minnie. She had one dog named Lara that had to find a new home because she was eating all the truffles she found! In Bulgaria, local interest in truffles is improving with a growing market for the wealthy who live in Sofia (the capitol) and fine dining restaurants. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this venture.
Casey will continue experimenting and watching her project grow. She has love of slow food and farm-to-table style living, having taken a master class in Sandanski, Bulgaria with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Virginina. Salatin’s methodology for rotating pastures was used on Casey’s farm with their 36 adopted cattle. On the farm, multiple methods are used, dipping into permaculture or utilizing a biodynamic idea, whatever the best method suited to her particular situation requires. They are currently also working on a cherry brandy distillery (which is called “rakia” in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe) and vodka, also gin and eventually whiskey. You can follow Casey’s farming and culinary adventures on her blog https://caseyangelova.com, www.facebook.com/eating.gardening.living or Instagram @caseyangelova
Truffled Pizza Recipe by Casey Angelova :
200g shredded mozzarella *if you use fresh mozzarella, drain away the excess moisture to avoid a soggy pizza
30g parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Generous amount of truffles 30-50g
Pizza dough (homemade preferable)
Mix ricotta and parmesan, season with salt and pepper. Use this as a base sauce for your pizza. Top with shredded mozzarella and bake in the oven 300C till done (10 – 15 minutes), immediately upon removing from the oven, shave generously with truffle… slice and serve. The simplicity of the the ricotta and mozzarella will allow the truffle flavor to dominate the dish. Avoid the temptation to add garlic or any other strongly flavored ingredients that will detract from the truffles, and enjoy!
Loic Luzinier is a relatively new truffle farmer, located in Saint Foy de Longas, Dordogne. He started his farm in 2011 and is now bio certified as of December 2020. His parents had planted a few trees years ago, however, as they are over 30 years old, they are no longer producing. This is the tricky part of truffle farming…trees need time to produce and then stop after around 30 years of age (luckily this accounts for only 4% of the trees on the farm).
Loic is located in what is considered ideal planting area, so nothing needed to be done to the soil on his property. The truffle growing project is called ‘Les Truffes de Lulu‘ which now has 1,200 green oak trees which were purchased through the Federation de Trufficulture a Perigeux a Dordogne. Around 50% of the new trees have just started to ‘brule’ or burn, but not particularly produce. The term ‘brule’ describes the rather barren look under a tree that suggests truffles might be found.
You might have noticed everyone has their truffle dogs, and Loic points out that any dog can be a truffle hunting dog with proper training. In fact, your typical hunting dog will be distracted by animal smells so all the better for those muts or goldens at home!
Loics favorite method of eating truffle? Making truffle butter and spreading on toast, enjoyed with a local artisanal beer. It’s simple, delicious, and quick!
Other projects on the farm include renovating their classic home into a gite (holiday home), offering weekend visits at the farm, and selling truffles direct (as production is still limited). Their current clients include nearby restaurants, a few individuals on a mailing list, and the rest can be purchased through the local truffle market at Saint-Alvere. At the truffle market all truffles are controlled and cleaned by the professionals on site before being sold to the public.
If you happen to make it to Dordogne, Loic recommends staying in scenic Tremolat and eating at Le Vieux Logis for some classic truffled dishes / Le Bourg, 24510 Tremolat / +33 (0)5 53 22 80 06 / Le Vieux Logis, Hôtel de luxe à Trémolat – Relais & Châteaux (relaischateaux.com)
TRUFFLE SPECIES :
Not all truffles are created the same. It might be tempting to buy a canned truffle, but in all honestly, fresh is best. There are dozens of actual truffle varieties, but these are the most common and ones you will be most likely to come across.
If you are in Dordogne, don’t miss the truffle Ecomusee de la Truffe in Sorges, although I don’t recommend with small children as there is little to entertain them. You can learn the history, different species and growing methods and take home your own fresh truffle / Open year round, check online for hours / firstname.lastname@example.org / +33 (0)5 53 05 90 11 / 2 Route des Truffieres, 24420 Sorges / Ecomusée de la Truffe | Sorges (ecomuseedelatruffe.com)
Summer Truffles / Tuber Aestivum or Burgundy Truffle – can be known by different names but is genetically the same species but are easiest to spot because of the time of year they are available, May-September.
Black Truffles from the Perigord / Tuber melanosporum – highly prized and considered ‘black gold’, which is the species discussed in this article and only generally available Decemeber-February in the Northern Hemisphere.
White Truffles / Tuber Foetidum – generally found in Northern Italy and considered even more valuable which is why they earned the nickname ‘white diamonds’.
WHERE TO BUY :
There are plenty of online retailers, buying direct from a local farm is ideal but you could also visit any of the seasonal markets. Keep in mind, unless otherwise specified, the black Perigord truffle you purchase in France might be from Spain. The species of truffle is the black Perigord, but this does not guarantee where the truffle originated. Store your truffle in a cool, dry place – in rice or with eggs is perfect as they will absorb the odors and release them when cooked.
BULGARIA / Black Perigord Truffles / Email directly for truffle purchase, email@example.com
USA North Carolina has a wonderful truffle tree farm if you are wanting to give it a try / Carolina Truffieres / 269 Drake Farm Road, Fletcher, NC 28732 / +1 828 301 0729 / firstname.lastname@example.org / Carolina Truffieres | Truffle Home | What Are Truffles
FRANCE There are plenty of truffle markets from December-February all over the region / La liste des marchés aux truffes qui ouvrent la semaine prochaine en Dordogne (francebleu.fr)
Saint Emilion has one on Saturday which is rather small
Maybe the best one for atmosphere is in Sarlat, France / Every Wednesday afternoon at 230pm for professionals and every Saturday morning from December – March at 9am-noon for the public / In January there is the truffle festival from 19-20, 2021 / Ville de Sarlat Marchés aux truffes
You could also try the market where Lulus truffles are sold everyone Monday morning / Saint-Alvere, Dordogne / Le marché aux truffes de Sainte-Alvère (valdelouyre-et-caudeau.fr)
Black French Truffles – Call to order a fresh truffle starting in December from the Ecomusee of Truffle and Nuts / Domaine de Vielcroze, 24250 Castenaud-la-Chapelle / +33 (0)5 53 59 69 62 / email@example.com / Accueil – Écomusée de la Noix du Périgord Dordogne (ecomuseedelanoix.fr)
You’ll also want to invest in a microplane or mandoline for shaving your truffle onto dishes / Mandolines et trancheuses – (truffefrance.com)
TO READ MORE :
Taming the Truffle / Ian HALL / 2008 / Amazon.fr – Taming the Truffle: The History, Lore, and Science of the Ultimate Mushroom – Hall, Ian R., Brown, Gordon T., Zambonelli, Alessandra – Livres
Degustation : Cookbook and Memoire / Alain Fabregues / 2011 / Amazon.fr – Degustation: A Master Chef’s Life Through Menus by Alain Fabregues (2011-03-15) – Alain Fabregues – Livres
Petit Manuel de la Truffe / Jean Pierre and Babeth Pebeyre / 2013 / Petit manuel de la Truffe – La truffe est un… de Pierre-Jean Pébeyre – Poche – Livre – Decitre