Truffles Cultivation

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825) , a French politician known as a great gastronome, wrote about some unsuccessful attempts to cultivate truffles:  
‘’The most learned men have sought to ascertain the secret, and fancied they discovered the seed. Their promises, however, were vain, and no planting was ever followed by a harvest. This perhaps is all right, for as one of the great values of truffles is their dearness, perhaps they would be less highly esteemed if they were cheaper.’’

Luckily, not all attempts to domesticate the truffles failed. People had noticed that truffles were captivating roots of certain species of  trees .The success depended on reproduction of same environment , good care and dedication.
Different sources point out that the man, who discovered how to cultivate truffles (‘trufficulture’(Fr), was Pierre II Mauleon (1744–1831) of Loudun . He started to domesticate the truffles about 1790. Mauleon attempted to reproduce symbiosis  between an oak tree,  rocky soil and the truffle by taking acorns from oaks known to have produced truffles, and planting them in chalky soil.

Later in 1808, Joseph Talon, from Apt (in Vaucluse) in southern France, transplanted some seedlings that he had gathered in the root system of oak trees .This was a successful experiment. Indeed a few years later the newly grown oak trees hosted truffles .

 In 1847, Auguste Rousseau of Carpentras (in Vaucluse) planted 7 hectares (17 acres) of oak trees (also from acorns of truffle-producing oak trees), and he subsequently obtained large harvests of truffles. He received a prize at the 1855 World's Fair in Paris.

People living in southern France , which possessed the limestone soils and dry, hot weather that truffles need to grow, met the successful attempts of cultivation enthusiastically.
Close to the end of 19th century, many of the vineyards in this part of France were destroyed by an epidemic of phylloxera. The fields of mulberry trees became unusable after another epidemic killed most of the silkworms. Thus, large pieces of land were   free for new production. The successful experience of truffle cultivation caused planting of plenty truffle-producing trees.  In 1890, there were 75,000 hectares (190,000 acres) of trees.
At the end of the 19th century the production reached its peaks.

Due to the industrialization of France in the 20th century and the subsequent decrease of rural population, many of the truffle fields (champs truffiers or truffieres) were abandoned. The First World War finalized this process by causing the death of at least   20%   of the male workers. Another bad consequence of the war was the disappearance of  newly obtained techniques of truffle cultivation.
To worsen the situation, between the two world wars, the truffle-producing groups of trees planted in the 19th century stopped producing truffles. (The average life cycle of a truffle tree is 30 years.) Consequently, after 1945, the production of truffles suddenly declined, and the prices  rose dramatically.
In the beginning of 19 century , the truffles were used by most people, but today, they are a rare delicacy reserved for the rich, or used on very special occasions.

The mass production of truffles have been recovered in the last 30 years. Eighty percent of the truffles now produced in France are cultivated ,i.e come from specially planted  group of truffle-producing trees. There are heavy investments in cultivated plantations all over the world: in the UK, the USA, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, South Africa and Chile. Because of the introduction of supervised irrigation,the production can be regular and withstand difficult weather conditions.   The production has almost reached its 1900s peaks. The farmers somehow disagree with the recovery of mass production, which would lower  the price of truffles (although it is often stated that the offer is 10 times less than the demand).

The most important in the cultivation is the quality control of the mycorrhizal plants. The truffles develop their mycorrhizal network for 7-10 years,   after that the host-plants   are ready to produce truffles. The success of a plantation is dependent on a thorough soil analysis to avoid contamination by other dominant fungus and a very strict control of the mycorrhizae formation. Up to €10,000   per hectare has to be invested in an irrigated and fenced against wild animals plantation. The investment is risky considering the amount of initial investment and the time maturity takes. In order to avoid failure it is very necessary for the farmers to improve the soil and seedling conditions.

What is interesting about cultivation in New Zealand and Australia?

In 1993 the first harvest of black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) took place in the Southern Hemisphere.The place was Gisborne, New Zealand.

In 1999, the first Australian truffles were picked up in Tasmania, after eight years of work.   The aim of creating a local truffle industry was leading while vaccinating the truffle fungus. The first success and the quality of the harvested truffles have stimulated the development of a small industry.
Successful stories:
•    The Truffle and Wine Company, a venture established in the west of Australia harvested its first truffles in 2004, and in 2005 they discovered a 1-kg (2.2-lb) truffle.
In 2008, the ground of  Manjimup gifted the company with about   600 kilograms (1,300 lb) of truffles.   The Wine and Truffle Company decided to enlarge its production by   making new attempts of truffle cultivation in  the colder regions of Victoria and New South Wales each year.

•    In June 2010, Michael and Gwynneth Williams from Tasmania found Australia's largest truffle in their property at Myrtle Bank, near Launceston. It was 1.084 kilograms (2 lb 6.2 oz),valued at about A$1,500 per kg.

•    Rosie, the Waipara truffle farm owner's  hound found the first burgundy truffle of 330g in New Zealand in July 2012.