January is the month that holds one of our favourite events. Every year we are drawn to the enticing truffle activities held in the architecturally glorious medieval market town of Sarlat.
Every Saturday and Wednesday sees a market worth visiting. Steeped in history and culture, the famous market draws visitors from all over. But for one weekend in January every year, Sarlat closes all of the usual stalls for something very special. The much awaited 'Fête de la Truffe à Sarlat'
The Sarlat cooking school (academy of foie gras and truffles, the name says it all) dominates the central square for the day. Donning their toques, the talented chefs focus all of their abilities on the truffle.
From snacks and street food to fine meats and desserts, truffles are held as ingredient number one - everything else is there to showcase this divine local delicacy. And the Sarladais have much to be proud of.
The 17 century (took 3oo years to complete) church is the location for the cavage demonstration: Truffles are hidden around the gardens and the hounds are released to sniff out the treasures in front of many delighted eyes. Perhaps Duggy will have a turn one year.
Alongside the mairie is the serious quarter. The dealing, selling and buying, of truffles takes place to a quiet yet buzzing, almost electric atmosphere.
Dotted around the winding streets are shops and stalls selling their truffled wares. It is impossible to resist the goodies, so this year we decided not to try and took our larger baskets ready to fill. A 'must' on our list was to take the opportunity to buy some of the excellent quality inoculated truffle trees. They are adapted to local conditions so should thrive and each is certified to be inoculated with tuber melanosporum.
And so we returned laden with beautiful saplings to plant this month. After some time of being out of stock - they are back!
We live in the Coubjours valley, in the heart of truffle country. The French Périgord is home to the tuber melanosporum because the unique climate and soil combine to create conditions perfect for them to thrive. In our last blog 'siting out a truffière', we explored the importance of soil. But it does appear that truffles can and are being grown in all sorts of unexpected places if you are prepared to do a little work. If you do not live in the Périgord, do not fear, it may still be possible to bring some truffle trees home!
Truffles are a big thing the world over because us humans love to scoff them regardless of the soil under our feet or the sun on our backs. It is universally accepted that truffles are delicious. And being human, we are able to adapt our surroundings to suit our needs. 14,000 years ago we did exactly this to survive through the glacial conditions of the ice age. Now, in 2024, it means we can dine on truffles wherever we may happen to be.
A very large and very delicious truffled chocolate macaroon.
In the southern hemisphere, the limestone rich, alkaline soils of Europe are rare indeed. But should that condemn our southern cousins to a life devoid of truffles? Surely not! For that is no life at all. Contrary to living without truffles, there are many interesting stories about truffières setting up all over New Zealand, Australia and the Americas. A particular truffle producer in New Zealand with highly acidic (low pH) soil is successfully, reliably producing truffles on a large scale. Those volcanic soils are the worst for truffles but they have produced high yields and so can you! This impressive feat has been achieved by adding large quantities of limestone. And I mean LARGE quantities.
Image showing the soil truffles will grow in. They actually aren't too fussy with the addition of limestone.
Starting your own small truffle orchard:
Traditionally in this area, truffle trees would be planted with the waning moon of march. Common practice now, however, is to plant during the colder, dormant part of the year.
Find an empty spot in the garden - you don't want anything rotting in the soil as this could introduce unwanted fungi competition. It should be as sunny as possible. And be sure to leave plenty of space, they can grow into big trees, especially if you do not plan to prune them.
Add your limestone. Spread your limestone out and dig it in just as you would with manure to fertilise your vegetables. Except that your truffles don't want highly nutritious soils and the aim here is to almost 'defertilise' it. Unlike other crops, truffles do not contain or want very much organic matter so it is better to remove mulch where possible (leaves, grass clippings, weeds can all be taken from this area to other parts of the garden where they will be appreciated). The addition of nutrients is almost always unnecessary, or even harmful, and for a few trees in the garden I probably wouldn't even bother to test the soil. Though large scale growers do have more of a need to test the soil, and often add dolomite when magnesium is low. Your limestone does not need to be dug in very deep. It will continue to migrate downwards unassisted by about an inch per year. An added bonus is that adding calcaire to clay makes it friable, I.e the soil will granulate, and drainage will be transformed - essential for your future truffles. Crushed limestone is a waste product from quarries so it doesn't cost the earth (hee-hee). But it is heavy and will require some effort to move and dig.
You will need to buy a properly inoculated tree from a reputable supplier. Within Europe there is relatively free movement of plants, but if you are in another country, you will need to search online to find a supplier. There are plenty out there. Our preferred tree to host the fruiting truffle body is the holm oak. The spiky leaves are a good deterrent to being nibbled or attacked and it is a very drought tolerant tree once established.
Once you have planted your sapling, water it in well as you would any other fruit tree.
To help your young truffle tree to grow well, we would strongly recommend using a tree protector. Avoid the 'mesh ones'. It will be another deterrent to nibbly teeth and stampy feet; but importantly, it will also help to create a micro-climate for your tree, keeping it warm and sheltered from desiccating winds. Place two or three metal or plastic canes around the tree to hold to protector in place (not wood to avoid the risk of introducing competing fungi in the soil). Use a short protector to avoid long whippy growth. The tree should be fairly sturdy and compact for longevity.
For the first year, it is important to water your new truffle orchard regularly just as you would for any new fruit orchard. It will give the plants a chance to become strong and established quickly. It is less important later, except in cases of extreme drought.
In coming years, weed around your trees aggressively. And after three years, begin pruning. Here's how we do it. And remember that if the truffles do arrive one day, they will be very tempting to passing boar, thieves or other animals, so you may need to consider protection. Good luck - and if you do plant any trees, we'd love to see. Send pictures to email@example.com And don't forget, if you don't fancy your own truffière, you can always adopt :)
Happy New Year from the whole family at Black Diamond Truffle Trees.