Truffles, considered to be a delicacy, are a rare type of fungus found near the roots of certain trees. Used in high-end cuisines, truffles and truffle oil are prized by chefs worldwide. Because truffles are so rare to find and difficult to grow, they are extremely expensive.
Black truffles are primarily grown in France and are used in cooking. There are three types of black truffles: black winter truffle, black summer truffle, and the Chinese truffle.
The black winter truffle, or Tuber melanosporum, is round with grayish black skin and white veins. Often called the “Black Diamond of Provence, ” the black winter truffle is extremely prized. This variety grows best in conditions found in the Mediterranean. France is the largest producer of black winter truffles, followed by Spain and Italy. Its growing season is December through March.
The black summer truffle, or Tuber aestivum, is similar in appearance to the black winter truffle only it is larger and has a tougher skin. This is the least expensive type of black truffle. It is grown in many different climates such as those in northern Italy, central Europe, Turkey, and North Africa. The growing season for this variety is June through November.
The Chinese truffle, or Tuber sinensis, is a winter black truffle that is harvested in China. Chinese truffles are found in greater quantities than black winter truffles and are often exported to the West as an inferior-quality substitute. Approximately 95% of Chinese truffles come from Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet. Spring is the growing season for this variety.
Growing Black Truffles
Black truffles cannot be artificially grown. They are difficult to grow because of their sensitivity; black truffles require a proper climate, mild temperatures, and the perfect amount of rainfall. Individuals in North American living along the West Coast, from northern California to British Columbia, have been able to ensure the proper climate, temperature, and rainfall in order to grow black truffles. Growing black truffles is not an easy task. It requires patience as it can take a number of years to harvest a single, first crop. Fortunately, once a tree has successfully produced a crop of truffles it can continue to do so for several decades.
In order for black truffles to be grown in the backyard, they need to be planted near a host tree under very controlled conditions. Many black truffle farms have perfected this technique and sell seeds that grow more easily in a backyard environment. Unfortunately, black truffles can only survive in areas with mild weather as extreme heat and cold will damage the truffles resulting in an unsuccessful harvest. Black truffles typically grow between 300 and 3000 feet above sea level and thrive in well drained soil that has good nutritional elements.
For best results, make sure the soil has a pH between 6.5 and 8.0. Oak, ash, and poplar trees make great host trees for black truffles. Sapling trees are also available to purchase and plant. Some companies sell trees infused with the black truffle fungus into the roots. Each variety of tree has different planting instructions so be sure to plant accordingly. Cultivate and care for the trees, watering generously, and always make sure that the soil drains properly. Be sure to regularly weed and prune the backyard, discouraging other vegetation from growing near the truffles or the tree. Be patient and continue to take good care of the tree because it may take up to five years before black truffles are ready to harvest.