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Siting out a truffière

So you have all of your inoculated trees in excited hands, raring to go. Spade at the ready. But where should you plant them? How can you be sure about the exact spot to jump upon sharpened spade? Does it even matter - how much difference could a place make anyway?

The answer is that a place will make all the difference. Tuber melanosporum is renowned for being a fussy little fungus. Yet as flighty as she may be, aligning the sights for truffles to flourish is well worth the effort. Especially if you love (as I do) those decadent fruit - the Périgord Black Truffle.

My mother always taught me the phrase of the six p’s - perfect planning prevents poor performance. As usual, mother knows best. And it couldn’t be more true than in the case of establishing a truffière, no matter how small.

Despite being the object of culinary obsession for a great many decades, much about this elusive little morsel remains a mystery. However, if we remain a pupil of the truffle and observe the results as they are slowly revealed, much may be gleaned about truffle cultivation.

Shrouded with all the complexity that nature can conceive, it would be extremely difficult and risky to create a truffle friendly environment from scratch. Some successful attempts to do so are in New Zealand where local farmers are keen to be part of the Black Diamond Rush. However, it is far simpler and more logical to find an environment naturally tending towards truffle activity.

While there are no guarantees as far as truffle cultivation is concerned, here are some guidelines we can consult in order to maximize the chances:

1. Look for other truffières in the area that are in truffle production. If, as we are, you are in a truffle producing region, there should be plenty of evidence locally of truffles - either current or historical. For example, the local cuisine may include truffles in their special dishes.

2. Can you find wild truffles? Or has anyone else reported finding truffles it the vicinity. Our truffle dog has found them in many areas in France and also in the UK (see article -sniffing out the UK's truffles). If you do not have a truffle dog, it might be possible to contact a local truffle association to ‘borrow’ one for a sniff. You may also contact us directly to see if Duggy is available. If there are truffles about, he’ll find them with a twitch of his snout.

3. Truffles love a limestone rich soil. Some clues to a limestone soil include the local houses - are they built from limestone? And limestone quarries, are there any nearby? Once you have found some obvious signs locally, you can test your soil for more precise measurements. Sending off a soil sample will give you a fuller picture than just finding the pH.

4. The climate is important. Truffles want a long, hot summer and a cold winter. They swell with a few late summer deluges, but too much rain and they’ll rot. Fussy, fussy.

5. More specific to the plot - how is it being used and what is the history for the last few years? Are there trees that you are planning to clear for the truffière? It is essential to minimise competing ectomycorrhizal activity. It is still possible to work around this, but everything else must be ideally suited to the truffle to ensure that it is not out competed by other underground fungi. Land previously used for grass or as a vineyard would be suitable. In fact, many of the truffières in the Perigord are thriving on failed vineyards. Land used for crops could also be suitable, but take care with soil amendments: fertiliser and the use of chemicals including pesticides and herbicides could be detrimental to future truffle production.

6. What is the specific location? Does the ground get sufficient direct sunlight? They like a lot of sun. Truffles can thrive on a hillside where they will not sit in waterlogged soil. However, they also do not want to dry out quickly on sandy soil either. The trees should also be protected from excessive winds that can contribute to harsh conditions.

While it is possible to tweak the surroundings to suit truffle production, I would not recommend too much doctoring. Soil life is incredibly complex and in a delicate balance that is easily knocked out of kilter. Results come very slowly, it would heartbreaking to labour under false hope only to be disappointed after waiting a decade.

If you cannot find your own truffière, why not hedge your bets and adopt a tree in a long standing truffle region surrounded by truffières - like Black Diamond Truffle Trees!

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