Friday, June 10, 2011

From Tobacco to Truffles

This is a guest post by Sandra - a true friend, fellow Newfoundland dog lover, and incredible journalist and editor. During her recent participation in the Blazing Laptops Write-a-thon, an all-day writing marathon to raise funds for San Diego Writers, Ink., she offered to write a guest post about her latest venture.

From Tobacco to Truffles
by Sandra Millers Younger

I didn’t come to truffle farming as a foodie. In fact, I’d never eaten a truffle until I attended the inaugural Napa Truffle Festival last December—long after I planted a couple thousand European truffle trees in a North Carolina field where my grandfather used to grow tobacco. Until then, truffles were a luxury well beyond my station, a perk peculiar to bluebloods—the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Kardashians.

Not belonging to such a wealthy clan, I got into truffle farming with the hope of creating retirement income by leveraging the family farm my sister and I had inherited. We loved the place. It had been our playground growing up, so selling wasn’t an option. But neither of us lived anywhere close now—she was in Ohio; I was in California—and it seemed a waste to let those beautiful woods and fields sit unvisited, unrealized, unprofitable.

I thought it only logical that I should grow something on my farm. But what could I cultivate cross-country? And then I came across a magazine story about a North Carolina man who produced Perigord truffles from trees grown in his back yard. I may not have known much about truffles, but I did know something about trees, enough to suspect I’d found my perfect low-maintenance crop.

I started to read everything I could find about truffles, and the more I read, the more intrigued I became. Although once found only in the wild, their exact location discernable only to truffle-loving pigs, most species of this upscale mushroom have been successfully cultivated for decades. Trained truffle dogs have replaced truculent 250-pound swine—another plus to a Newf lover like me. Today, a full 80 percent of truffles sold in France come from planted orchards. But so far, no one in North American has grown European truffles on a commercial scale.

I hope to be among the first. Three years ago, I partnered with a brilliant British mycologist and his savvy American business manager. Two years ago, I planted my orchard, a field of oak twigs and spaghetti-thin hazelnut shoots. Today my “baby trees” are green and lush; most are taller than I am; and their roots are covered with black summer truffle (tuber aestivum) fungus. In another couple of years, with care and good luck, my Newfs and I should find lots of fabulous fungus in Grandpa’s old tobacco field. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Wonderful story! Really hoping you'll guest post again in a couple of years to tell us about how successful your newf's truffle hunting abilities are.

Best wishes,