We’re excited to announce that the first cultivated black Périgord (winter) truffle in the UK has been produced using Mycorrhizal Systems technology – this is the first time the truffle has been found north of central France and was grown on our partner site in Monmouthshire, South Wales.
The truffle find and associated research has been reported in the journal ‘Climate Research’. Analysis by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Dr Paul Thomas from Mycorrhizal Systems and the University of Stirling suggests that climate change was a factor and that truffle cultivation may be possible in many parts of the UK.
The scientific breakthrough is an important development for the burgeoning UK truffle industry as climate change is threatening native black Périgord truffle habitats in southern Europe.
First ever Périgord black truffle grown in the UK
The Mediterranean black Périgord truffle, also known as the winter truffle and one of the world’s most expensive ingredients, has been successfully cultivated in the UK, as climate change threatens its native habitat.
Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd (MSL) have successfully cultivated the truffle as part of our partnership programme in Monmouthshire, South Wales: the farthest north that the species has ever been found.
After nine years of waiting, the truffle was harvested in March 2017 by a MSL farming partner and his trained dog, Bella. The aromatic fungus was growing in the root system of a Mediterranean oak tree that had been treated to encourage truffle production. Further microscopic and genetic analysis confirmed that Bella’s find was indeed a Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum).
The black truffle is one of the most expensive delicacies in the world, worth as much as £1,700 per kilogram. Black truffles are prized for their intense flavour and aroma, but they are difficult and time-consuming to grow and harvest, and are normally confined to regions with a Mediterranean climate. In addition, their Mediterranean habitat has been affected by drought due to long-term climate change, and yields are falling while the global demand continues to rise. The truffle industry is projected to be worth £4.5 billion annually in the next 10-20 years.
Black truffles grow below ground in a symbiotic relationship with the root system of trees in soils with high limestone content. They are found mostly in northern Spain, southern France and northern Italy, where they are sniffed out by trained dogs or pigs. While they can form naturally, many truffles are cultivated by inoculating oak or hazelnut seedlings with spores and planting them in chalky soils. Even through cultivation, there is no guarantee that truffles will grow.
In partnership with local farmers, MSL director Dr Paul Thomas from the University of Stirling has been cultivating truffles in the UK for the past decade. In 2015, MSL successfully cultivated a UK native Burgundy truffle, but this is the first time the more valuable black Périgord truffle has been cultivated in such a northern and maritime climate. Its host tree is a Mediterranean oak that was planted in 2008. Before planting, the tree was inoculated with truffle spores, and the surrounding soil was made less acidic by treating it with lime.
“This is arguably the best flavoured truffle species in the world and the potential for industry is huge,” said Thomas. “We planted the trees just to monitor their survival, but we never thought this Mediterranean species could actually grow in the UK – it’s an incredibly exciting development.”
The results of the find, reported in the journal Climate Research, includes analysis by researchers from both the University of Cambridge and MSL suggesting that truffle cultivation may be possible in many parts of the UK.
The researchers have attributed the fact that black truffles are able to grow so far outside their native Mediterranean habitat to climate change. “This cultivation has shown that the climatic tolerance of truffles is much broader than previously thought, but it’s likely that it’s only possible because of climate change, and some areas of the UK – including the area around Cambridge – are now suitable for the cultivation of this species,” said Thomas. “While truffles are a very valuable crop, together with their host trees, they are also a beneficial component for conservation and biodiversity.”
The first harvested truffle, which weighed 16 grams, has been preserved for posterity, but in future, the truffles will be distributed to restaurants in the UK.
The habitats that support both the black winter truffle and the UK's native summer truffle, have declined rapidly in the wild, which is why cultivation is so important. If you would like to know more about purchasing truffle trees of any number, to see how our partnership scheme works or have any other question around cultivating truffles then please email us using the contact form and we’ll be happy to help.
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