Bill Stewart recently made a discovery on his farm and hazelnut orchard in Bradner – a Périgord truffle – the first of its kind found in B.C.
The truffles are a delicacy, native to Europe, and worth about $2,200 a kilogram.
Despite Stewart’s excitement at the finding, the moment was almost a decade in the making.
Stewart began cultivating the truffles in 2004, when he planted the seedling of hazelnut trees inoculated with truffle spores. With proper care and cultivation, the truffles will grow on the roots of the trees. Stewart said there are ways to assist the process, such as ensuring the soil has high alkaline levels, and pruning the trees in a way that makes it more beneficial to the fungus.
The first truffle was found on Stewart’s land on March 8 and two more were discovered on March 21.
“I started the process in 2004, but it’s normal to wait this long until you start finding them.”
The truffles that have been found are about three centimetres across. Since they are of good quality, they are worth about $50 each. Périgord truffles are native to a large region of Europe – an area of France is called Périgord – but have been recently grown in Oregon. This, however, is the first successful cultivation of the truffle in B.C.
Alana McGee runs the Seattle-based business Toil and Truffle, which trains canines for truffle detection. McGee and her dogs have visited Stewart’s orchard about eight times in the last few years, to see whether the Périgord truffle has grown. In March, her dog Duff – a six-year-old black retriever mix – discovered the first truffle. About two weeks later, her dog Lolo – a 10-month-old Lagotto Ramagnolo, a breed traditionally used in Italy for truffle hunting – made the next discovery.
While McGee often uses the dogs to detect native truffles – which are not quite as valuable at about $600 per kilogram – she also comes to farms to detect for any cultivated fungi.
McGee said she and Stewart were “very startled” to find the truffles, as it can often take many more years before a farm sees any results.
She said this is an amazing discovery because it is still unknown how Périgord truffles will grow in regions of North America. In Europe, the season for Périgord truffles is November, December and January, but the discovery of them in both Oregon and B.C. may mean that the season is different in North America. She said it is encouraging to see that it is possible.
“This is huge, it means it can be done… It’s high-risk, high-gain experimental farming.”
McGee likens the discovery of Périgord truffles in Oregon and B.C. to the beginning of the wine industry in the region, in that initially many people didn’t think it could be done.
Though the 10-year cultivation process may seem like a long time to wait for a crop, Stewart said “that’s just the way nature is.”
Stewart had his truffle tested in a lab to ensure it is truly a Périgord truffle, and he said there is definitely a potential monetary benefit if a larger crop can be grown.
“It’s not the easiest thing to accomplish. There are still a lot of unknowns.”
But some of Stewart’s interest in growing the truffles came from the experiment inherent in the process.
“I was looking for something a little different, something that was easy on the land. You just plant the trees and you don’t have to work the land much after that.”
Alhough, he acknowledges the wait was at times difficult.
“Waiting for eight or nine years, it’s hard to keep your optimism up. But … now I’m optimistic that there is potential here.”
Stewart said there are others in the Fraser Valley who have began the process to grow truffles. While they have yet to see results, Stewart said his find is encouraging.
“It means I’m definitely going to take care of my hazelnut trees. It gave me optimism that this long-term project might pay off.”