Last winter was a big season for the Sonoma County truffle industry. Well it's not quite an industry yet but now with at least 3 productive truffle farms in Sonoma County and over 35 lbs. harvested in the '18-'19 season, it's looking good.
AVTC got a boost of confidence as our dogs proved they are ready to work by locating many of the truffles in Sonoma County this last season. Joining the hunt this year are Vito, Luke, and Bella who are all offspring of Tuber Giana and Rico the Truffle Dog. The pups have all found truffles themselves and seem happy to join the rotation.
We expanded our orchard with the addition of 200 English Oaks inoculated with Tuber Bianchetto and another 200 Stone Pine trees to be planted next year. With any luck, this new orchard in Healdsburg Ca. will start to fruit in 3 years, fingers crossed.
Hello all and welcome to the first blog entry. 2017 was an exciting year. We traveled the world to see working Truffiéres in action. We went to Australia and spent a week with Dr. Nick Malajczuk who personally drove us around the countryside of Western Australia so we could see a glimpse of what is to come for us. We saw truffles harvested at a producing orchard and had coffee with the owners whose calm and happy demeanor during harvest season was reassuring. They have had healthy harvests for years and the "if" and "when" anxiety has been squashed by the weight of their commercial truffle production. We saw cleaning stations, weighing stations, grading stations and shipping stations. It was eye opening to see this actual production taking place and it kind of kicked us into high gear in anticipation of what is to come. We also saw the effect this industry was having on the surrounding communities. Farm towns were being revitalized with chic restaurants and motels to accommodate the truffle tourism. Upon leaving Australia, we had lost most of the "if" but now focused on the "when".
Shortly after our trip to Australia we booked tickets for The Barcelona Truffle Tour hosted by Marcos Morcillo. We saw a scale of industry that was impressive. The Spanish government recognized the importance of truffle cultivation and started investing heavily in the infrastructure of its local truffiéres and the research of truffle science. The effort to scale up production is fanned by the diminishing wild crop. Natural forest habitat, which used to be thinned for firewood, has grown too thick as other sources of fuel become available and the natural truffiéres have gone dormant. The success of this investment is apparent in the local communities surrounding the industry. Some villages on the brink of becoming ghost towns saw revitalization as new opportunities became available.
The Spanish are not afraid to experiment and therefore have created new yet controversial growing techniques. We saw practices that contradicted everything we knew about truffle cultivation. As opposed to a set it and forget it approach, they are very aggressive with the soil and believe strongly in adding fresh truffle spores to the soil to promote sexual reproduction. Whether or not you agree with tilling the sacred ground or the need to add spores, you cannot argue with the success of Spanish truffle production.
Back in California...
Back in Sonoma County and still waiting for our trees to mature we had a lot to think about. Especially since some of the most exciting local truffle news broke ground while we were abroad. Truffles were successfully cultivated in Santa Rosa California! This was the largest question looming; "can they even grow here?". Brian Malone of Jackson Family Wines has been the caretaker of their orchard and on February 19th 2017 had a team of dogs from Oregon come out for a hunt . Our dog Tuber also found a few there. In all they found about 19 small truffles in the orchard. This was a boon to our energy but it remained a waiting game for us.
A huge part of growing truffles is the ability to harvest ripe truffles and a well trained dog is a must. We already had "Tuber", a lagotto romagnolo or Italian truffle dog who has found truffles in the wild in Oregon and at the Jackson family truffiére. "Leo" another lagotto from a Serbian truffle farm kind of fell into our lap. We didnt know if he was skilled in truffle hunting but we knew that eventually we would need another working dog so we decided to take him in. As harvest season neared, both dogs could find our placed targets in the orchard and we were sure that this might be our year.
I personally walked our 1500 tree orchard with Leo and Tuber several times a week. Although the dogs would hit on a scent, I would smell the soil and dig down to investigate only to find a mole or gopher hole, or nothing at all. Now either our dogs were missing them or truffles were not there and having never personally found a truffle, I couldn't tell which was true. I needed to have the experience of finding a truffle to ensure I was not missing something. On December 2 2017 we hosted a hunt with Stacie O'Toole and her dog Mila, "The Truffle Huntress". We started at our orchard and again the dogs would hit but we could not find anything. Later in the day we went to the Kendal Jackson orchard and Mila had a hit. We eagerly awaited as Brian unearthed the first truffle of the year! This invigorated everyone with a dog as we fanned out desperately trying to join the club. Mila found a couple more that day and I was left wondering if I was taking a dog for a walk as opposed to hunting truffles.
2018 Oregon Truffle Festival...
With our dogs, we attended the Oregon Truffle Festival hosted by Dr. Charles Lefevre Ph.D.. A hunt arranged on privately owned land with Douglas Fir awaited. Knowing there were truffles in the ground, I saw this as Leo's ultimate chance to prove himself. After only ten minutes, two other dogs had hit on truffles. After another twenty minutes Leo turned his head abruptly to the side and placed his nose on the ground and pawed. Just under the forest's top layer, lay his first truffle, an Oregon black. This happened so fast I didn't really have time to think because the hunt continued. He found a total of ten ounces of Oregon black truffles in the hour or so we were there. Tuber also found a few that Leo had missed. Now I knew that all our hunting was not in vain and that chances were that our orchard had not yet reached production.
The Jackson Family orchard was still an option though. During another hunt there in January, Mila had found a softball size truffle which is the largest truffle found in California yet. We came back with Tuber and Leo in February and within an hour Leo gave a subtle nod at the base of a tree. I could smell something but it didn't exactly scream truffle to me so I had Tuber check the spot as well. When she pawed, we dug down and found our first tuber melanosporum of the season. Leo found another large truffle that day that I could clearly detect through the dirt. Leo apparently had the skill all along. I found out that I was the one being trained.
I wish I could end the post with news that we found Truffles on our property but that is not yet the case. We are not discouraged and have never wanted winter to come so quickly.