After decades of failed attempts, scientists in France have revealed that they have finally been able to grow white truffles.
The prized delicacy had so far proved impossible to cultivate, meaning the only way to acquire the pungent fungus was to buy from a dealer or directly from a truffle hunter. The rarity of the white truffle means it can fetch prices as high as €10,000 at auction. If the French experiment succeeds in cracking how to farm white truffles at a commercial scale, it could bring down the cost significantly.
Growing white truffles: the experiment
The experiment was carried out at a secret location in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, western France by the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE) and the findings were published in Le Trufficulteur, the magazine of the French Federation of Truffle Growers.
“This significant increase in production is very promising,” said mycologist and project leader Dr Claude Murat, of INRAE and the University of Lorraine, Nancy.
“It confirms the truffle is well established. With black truffles, it is usual to have just a few truffles at first and then a quick increase, and it seems the white truffle is behaving in the same way, which is good news for future cultivation.”
A truffle hunter with his dog in Piedmont, Italy Photo: Alberto Grasso
The Périgord truffle has been cultivated since the 1970s across Europe, meaning that as much as 90% of the black truffles on the market come from plantations. Until now, however, the white truffle proved impossible to farm.
The project began back in 1999, when researchers at INRAE and the Pépinières Robin nursery produced oak trees with the same genetic profile as those proved to have partnered with white truffles in Italy. The trees were then planted in truffle orchards in 2008. This year, 12 of the 52 planted trees have yielded white truffles, 26 in all, weighing 900kg in total.
The news will be a welcomed by lovers of white truffles, as it may make the delicacy more affordable, and with much of the environment favourable to T. magnatum growth under threat from deforestation, rising temperatures and scarcity of water, it may help secure supply in the future.
It may not, however, be welcomed by the traditional truffle hunters, who keep their truffle locations closely guarded, and who can make thousands of euros in a truffle season, often selling them on the black market.