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‘Not for the faint of heart:’ Cultivating truffles takes passion and patience


John Kelly and his truffle-hunting dog, Macchi.


Submitted photo – John Kuharchuk / PNG

Truffle cultivation won’t make you a quick buck, but that’s not the point for a dedicated group of local growers.

The B.C. Truffle Association is hoping to interest farmers in an “alternative crop” that could pay thousands, or very little at all.

The elusiveness of truffles is part of their appeal, admitted Sharmin Gamiet, a mycologist who will be making a presentation on truffles at the Pacific Agriculture Show next weekend.

In 2013, Abbotsford farmer Bill Stewart produced B.C.’s first Périgord truffle, a culinary delicacy that could fetch up to $2,200 per kilogram wholesale. The golf-ball sized mushroom was unearthed by a truffle-sniffing dog in a seven-acre stand of inoculated hazelnut trees.

But since then, many of B.C.’s hazelnut orchards have been struck by blight and uprooted.

Gamiet believes there are currently two truffle growers in B.C., including one in the Fraser Valley and another on Vancouver Island.

“In order to do this, you need to have long-term vision,” she said. “It is not for the faint of heart.”


In this file photo from 2014, Brooke Fochuk holds an Oregon White truffle her dog Dexter found in a field in Abbotsford. (Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG)

Jason Payne /

PROVINCE

Although truffles grow in the wild, cultivation is becoming more common, with productive orchards in Europe generating up to $100,000 an acre annually.

To grow a specific type of truffle, a farmer must first prepare a plot of land to ensure it’s not too acidic. Before planting, the roots of seedlings must be inoculated with truffle spores. It takes at least seven years for the orchard to start producing truffles, which must be unearthed by specially-trained dogs or pigs, which naturally seek out the fragrant fruit of the fungus that inhabit the roots of the trees.

“It does take effort, but at the end of the day, it’s a great thing to have,” said Gamiet.

Most local truffles, including those that grow in the wild, are found in the fall, winter and early spring in areas where the ground is not frozen.

Although truffles are increasingly popular among foodies, most local truffles are sold to chefs, who have been experimenting with them to find the best uses.

The B.C. Truffle Association began 16 years ago after Gamiet attended a mycology conference in Europe, where truffle cultivation has become popular.

“I realized we could do this in B.C.,” she said.

With a small grant and help from the University of B.C., which has a research orchard, the group was able to make advances in truffle cultivation, as well as training several truffle-sniffing dogs.

“It’s really due to the dedication of a group of people who have a love for truffles,” said Gamiet.


Brooke Fochuk and her dog Dexter search for truffles in a hazelnut tree grove in Abbotsford on February 21, 2014. (Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG)

Jason Payne /

PROVINCE

The group is planning a truffle festival at the end of February.

Gamiet will also be giving a talk about truffles at the Pacific Agriculture Show on Saturday, Feb. 1 at the Tradex in Abbotsford. The three-day show features more than 300 agriculture-related exhibitors.

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