North Bay Business Journal
|Robert Chang, managing director and chief truffle officer of the American Truffle Company, holds the first harvested Burgundy Black Truffle from the Otellini Truffle Orchard in Sonoma in 2020 using the company’s scientific cultivation technology.
(American Truffle Company photo)
Burgundy black truffles, fungus delicacies that go for $300 to $500 a pound, have been successfully harvested from a Sonoma County orchard, the first domestic harvest in the county, as well as in North America, according to the announcement by the American Truffle Company.
In December 2018, the firm harvested another “farmed” truffle variety, the Périgord black truffle, from the same Otellini Truffle Orchard in Sonoma County.
Based in San Mateo, the company was founded in 2007 by Robert Chang, managing director and chief truffle officer, and Paul Thomas, chief scientist. According to them, the North Bay is one of only a relatively few climate zones around the world suitable for the practice of farming truffles by injecting fungus into trees in “client partner” orchards.
“ATC is pioneering its technology in what are called Mediterranean climate zones found in 25 countries on four continents, as well as at three dozen locations in the U.S., including 10 partner sites in the North Bay,” Chang said. “Scientific truffle orchards have been established at Peju Province Winery (Napa County) and at Robert Sinsky Vineyard’s Carneros truffle orchard (also in Napa), to name a few regional locations.
“Our scientific efforts are also bringing this technology to higher latitudes to push the potential growing zone envelope to areas such as Great Britain, beyond those that have been considered as traditional truffle growing regions in Spain, Italy and France. This is important because climate change forecasts show that Spain, for example, may not be able to grow truffles 30 years from now.”
While Europe has been the primary source of nature’s truffles for centuries, other countries, including the U.S., are implementing carefully designed protocols to “farm” truffles.
WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD
|The prized Burgundy black truffle: Here’s a cross section of a tubor, harvested in mid-February 2020 at Sonoma County’s Otellini Truffle Orchard, a client partner of the American Truffle Company.
(American Truffle Company photo).
American Truffle founders say the industry is less than a decade away from becoming firmly established in its own right, as it continues to ramp up to produce truffles in commercial quantities for professional and home chef truffle enthusiasts. Black truffles are not just a one-season product but can be harvested virtually year-round.
Today the company has client partners who own 200 acres devoted to truffle farming worldwide, a number they say will be capped at 500 acres to maintain the market and the rate of return for these high-value products.
Périgord and Burgundy black truffles are in high demand and considered by many to be the “black gold” of the gourmet market, valued at a per pound price closely equivalent to the price of an ounce of 24-carat gold in some cases. They are delicacies sought by top tier restaurateurs, renowned Michelin-rated chefs and home chefs around the globe garnering.
“The two black truffle varieties produced locally are among the most highly-prized,” said Kathleen Ludice, company spokesperson. “They command prices historically ranging from $1,200 per pound for Périgord black truffles to $500 a pound for winter Burgundy and $300 per pound for summer Burgundy truffles. Only white truffles, at nearly $1,500 per pound and up — often rising to $3,000 or $4,000 a pound — are more valuable, but the white variety has not been successfully cultivated to date.”
Historically, truffles have been “hunted” using female pigs that could detect their underground presence in secret areas of forests where they foraged.
Today naturally occurring and cultivated truffles are found with the help of specially trained dogs — that won’t eat truffles or bite fingers — but simply sniff out and locate aromatic truffles for their owners. Bill Collins with Otellini Truffle Orchard said his truffle dog, a Lagotto Pomagnolo named Rico, found the first Burgundy black truffle.
|RICO, the Lagotto Romagnolo truffle sniffing dog, who found the first Burgundy Black Truffle harvested in the U.S. using scientific cultivation technology at Otellini Truffle Orchard in Sonoma County.
(Kopol Bonick Photo)
American Truffle was formed to use science to develop specially-treated oak and hazelnut saplings and reproduce soil conditions necessary for growing truffles. Saplings are inoculated with black truffle fungus and carefully managed using scientific protocols proven to deliver reliable and reproducible results.
“Truffle farming is a unique type of mono-agriculture that is symbiotic with vineyards and is yet another way to diversify local farm crops while also providing an additional revenue stream,” Iudice said.
The benefits associated with an ATC partnership are not limited to scientific ways to cultivate truffles.
“We offer partners four services that begin with the purchase of oak and hazelnut wood saplings that have been inoculated with truffle fungus spores,” said Chang.
The typical start-up costs per acre, including all inoculated of trees, all consulting and monitoring for the life of orchard.
The second phase involves the overall scientific know-how that the company provides before, during and after trees are planted, including the selection and qualifying of the land, preparation of soil determining soil chemistry and the pH balance necessary for truffle growth, as well as the layout of tree rows and irrigation details.
As the third component, ATC places environmental monitoring stations are placed in orchards to measure over 25 parameters, including air quality, solar radiation, temperature, moisture and soil chemistry and other parameters to ensure that they are within the required range for truffle growth.
These stations electronically transmit data from truffle orchards around the world back to company headquarters for analysis. Once a year, partners are asked to collect tree root samples so scientists can determine how well the fungus is growing.
MARKETING TO TOP CHEFS
|A tasting of a gourmet noodle dish featuring a finely sliced Burgundy black truffle from the Otellini Truffle Orchard in Sonoma County. The mid-February 2020 harvest was the first for a truffle of this kind in the U.S.
(American Truffle Company photo)
Officials said the company maintains close relationships with Michelin-starred chefs and restaurant owners in the U.S. and Europe — the chief buyers of truffles.
American Truffle is also the organizer of the annual Napa Truffle Festival in January.
“The goal behind ATC’s scientific truffle cultivation efforts is to maximize yield, since Mother Nature often causes conditions limiting the natural supply. Dr. Thomas continues to conduct research to improve yields. Since it can take from five to eight years on average for inoculated trees to produce truffles,” Chang said.
The company has developed a “harvest on demand” process, so that truffles are only taken from the orchard when an order is placed and then shipped overnight via FedEx to help preserve freshness.
“Looking forward, we will continue to build our distribution network to be in a position to make high-quality truffles available for chefs when needed,” Chang said. “Today there is no other trustworthy and reliable source that can do this. ATC is uniquely equipped to offer on-demand shipping to help preserve truffle flavor, aroma and freshness.”