Mushrooms

Truffles: Black Diamonds

Thanks to a contest, I had the chance, in October, to attend a truffle harvesting activity organized by Truffes Québec for their producers and I loved my experience. I wanted to share with you what I learned about growing and harvesting these underground mushrooms.

Two people in the forest holding a truffle
My partner and I found a deer truffle: inedible, and smelling of… well… poop. Literally.

It’s Rare, It’s Expensive, It’s Good (Or so I Hear!), But What is a Truffle?

Because of its rarity and accessibility, this gourmet mushroom is a very expensive luxury product. Depending on the type of truffle, the price can reach several thousand dollars per pound! (I’ve never had the chance to cook or eat truffles. I wonder why…!?)

Used in high gastronomy, this mushroom is “à la mode”. Like many products in high demand, the price is therefore a little (very!) high. Just think of caviar, oysters and champagne…

A person pours truffle oil on a slice of bread with cheese and cold cuts
Photo: Alexis Antoine, unsplash.com.

Have you noticed how expensive so-called “natural aphrodisiacs“ are? Do what you want with this information, it’s not my topic today!

The reality of the truffle is that it is a difficult food to find: no part of the mushroom grows above ground. Many animals with a keen sense of smell can find them and that is why we use truffle animals to help us in our search.

The pig has long been used for this job, but as it tends to eat the truffles when finding them, it is not the best colleague. In fact, it is not uncommon to meet truffle growers with a missing finger… lost while trying to retrieve a truffle from a pig’s mouth… oops!

A white dog in the forest.
The Lagotto Romagnolo is the breed of dog that has taken over from the pig in truffle hunting, but any dog can be trained for the task in a matter of weeks. Photo: Desirae Hayes-Vitor, unsplash.com.

Truffles in Quebec

For a long time, it was believed that truffles could only be found in Europe. But, great news: delicious truffles have been found in Quebec! (Delicious, I’ve been told, anyway!)

Small brown truffle
The most popular, but not the only one found in America, is the Appalachian truffle. Photo: G. Fortin, mycoquebec.org.

It’s difficult to discuss Quebec’s truffles because very few studies have been conducted on the subject. We have for the moment four known edible species, and a rather important quantity of unknowns.

The difficulty in forest harvesting lies in the identification of these truffles: as we know little about them, the risk of finding an inedible truffle that would be the look-alike of an edible species is high. This is why a DNA analysis is absolutely necessary before eating your harvest. If it is a known truffle, bon appétit! If not, I wouldn’t risk it if I were you.

A dog smells the truffles in a man's hand.
Photo: Andrea Cairone, unsplash.com.

The surest way to get truffles in Quebec right now is to grow them. Truffles grow in symbiosis with certain trees, so you’ll need a little space. It is possible to grow them on a small, medium or large scale. From a small garden of truffle trees at home to an orchard in the country or a crop of several acres. Different types of trees make everything possible!

Do you want to try?

You’ll need:

  • A well drained, rather sandy and ideally calcareous soil.
  • At least three truffle trees inoculated with truffle spores (because only 15% to 30% will produce)
  • …and some 7 to 10 years of patience before your first harvest!

Yes, growing truffles isn’t any really easier than picking them in the wild! A nice retirement project to pass on to your children, but certainly not a way to get rich quick!

Being a new crop in Quebec, only one field is producing truffles at the moment, and these are being used to inoculate new trees to expand production and create new truffle fields. You probably won’t find Quebec truffles in your local market any time soon!

If you want to know more, or even get some truffle trees, I invite you to visit the Duckett Truffières website.

Map of truffle-producing countries. Photo: Truffle.shop

Truffle Production Across the World

With climate change, truffle production in Europe has dropped dramatically, driving prices up even more.

Will the new Quebec truffle farms make this product more affordable? No, they won’t. But certainly more accessible and especially local!

Since production is very slow and tedious, and harvesting just as difficult, prices will remain very high. But who knows, maybe Quebec will become a world leader in production in a few years? Maple truffles must be good, right?

Having never had the chance to taste truffles myself (I accept mail delivery BTW!), I can’t say if the price is worth it. However, there are more affordable products with artificial truffle flavors. I’m not very fond of processed products and have never bought any myself, but I promise to try truffle oil soon. True truffle experts may not approve, but I hear it’s close enough.

Row of truffle-flavored olive oil bottles.
Photo: pixabay.com.

Personally, I will continue to pick the wild mushrooms that are visible and accessible during the summer… And eat $4 grocery store button mushrooms in the winter. While I loved my this activity and learned a lot, I also learned that this is not a crop for the laidback gardener in me!

Have you ever tried truffle hunting?

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

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