Prized European truffle cultivated in U.S.

Seattle TimesApril 23, 2013 

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The world’s truffle maps may have to be redrawn with recent discoveries of European black truffles in hazelnut orchards in Oregon and British Columbia.

PATRICK BERNARD — AFP/Getty Images

— The world’s truffle maps may have to be redrawn with recent discoveries of European black truffles in hazelnut orchards in Oregon and British Columbia.

For years, some hazelnut orchard growers in the Northwest have been trying to produce these European Perigord truffles by cultivating trees whose special root stock was inoculated with the truffle fungus.

European Perigords already have been successfully cultivated in North Carolina, Tennessee, California and Arkansas, said Charles LeFevre, of Eugene, Ore.-based New World Truffieres, who provided the root stock that produced the first Northwest Perigord truffles. A white European truffle variety has been cultivated in Idaho.

The European Perigord truffles can command a retail price of more than a $1,000 per pound, more than twice the price of the wild black and white Northwest truffles that grow in the region’s Douglas fir forests.

But until this year, nobody had ever documented the successful cultivation of these truffles in the Northwest orchards.

“This is a big deal,” LeFevre said.

There are also about a dozen Washington growers with an acre or more of the hazelnut root stock primed to produce the European truffles, LeFevre said.

It all adds up to good news for chefs and foodies: Truffles are becoming a much more common culinary offering by regional chefs, with a new generation of truffle-sniffing dogs finding local varieties.

But the European truffle is at the top of the truffle pyramid. The Perigords, though not as pricey as the European white truffle, are a fabled variety that can be used in pastas, poultry stuffing, pastes and many other foods.

So the Perigords, if they take hold, could be a big boost to the fledgling regional truffle industry.

It has taken years for the hazelnut orchards to begin producing their first truffles, and naysayers questioned whether it was possible to grow the prized European fungi in the damp Northwest.

But in late February, a walnut-sized Perigord was found in a hazelnut orchard of 12-year-old trees near Corvallis, Ore., by Ilsa, a Belgian Malinois trained to scent truffles by owner Kris Jacobson, of Umami Truffle Dogs.

Then on March 8, Duff, a rescue dog owned by McGee, found a Perigord while prospecting in 7-year-old hazelnut trees in an orchard near Abbotsford, B.C.

Since that first discovery, two more Perigords have been found on the farm.

“It was a little shocking,” said Bill Stewart, who owns the orchard. “I tried to keep the optimism up for so many years.”

The Perigords also have been grown in other countries, including Australia, where LeFevre says that some farms produce tons of truffles each year.

At a recent truffle conference, LeFevre was surprised to learn that a European black truffle was harvested in Sweden during the past year.

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