Tree farms and truffles

truffler1635 at truffler1635 at
Thu Nov 9 12:42:07 EST 2000

In addition to Christmas trees, poles, firewood, and timber, tree farms
can offer truffles.

In fact, as mycorrhizal fungi, truffles can grow trees more rapidly and
healthier. Mycorrhizal-inoculated trees are more drought-tolerant, less-
susceptible to insect or fungal infection, and _probably_ have greater
value for the fungi associated with them than the trees themselves. (OK,
this year may be an exception, with 7-foot Noble firs selling for $49.)

It is interesting to me that a single 7-foot Noble fir may produce a
pound of Oregon Black truffles. In fact, while the 7-foot stage is likely
the first crop of truffles, truffles will continue to fruit with the same
trees for 25-250 years in the future.

Noble fir, Pacific Silver fir, and Douglas fir all have quantities of
truffles associated with them. Douglas fir has by far the most varieties
of hypogeous fungi collectively called truffles.

Truffles are mycorrhizal fungi which are beneficial to trees through
gathering water, nutrients and protection from pathogenic fungi. By
supply their host trees with nitrogen (through close associates with
nitrogen-fixing bacteria) truffles may also mitigate the affects of some
insect outbreaks: nitrogen-rich needles tend to be less attractive to
many insects.

Many tree farmers are now harvesting Christmas trees. This is the perfect
time to be looking for truffles as well. Recently cut trees are easy to
check with a potato rack near the cut stem. Many truffles may also be
partially exposed due to animal activity. When mature, truffles develop
aromas which attract animals to dig and eat them. One of the first signs
truffles are present in an area are small animal pits 1-3 inches deep,
which can look like animal burrows. Some of these pits will have pieces
of lighter colored truffles, kind of like confetti, where the animals
have discarded the outer shells or less edible portions of the truffle.
Other pits may well have the partially eaten truffle in the bottom of the
hole. Since most of the truffle-eating animals are rather small, many
cannot eat an entire truffle at one feeding. So, they may return several
nights in a row.

Most truffle-eating animals (mycophageous) are small and active during
the night, such as California Red-backed voles and Northern Flying
squirrels. Another sign that voles/squirrels are actively harvesting
truffles are truffles left in forks of tree branches, where the animals
let the truffles dry before storing them for later consumption during the

This is one reason why truffles in the Pacific Northwest tend to do
better dried than other areas of the world: the animals have already
shown us the way. Dried truffles can be kept for at least 2 years without
noticeable decrease of flavor. And the drying process can actually cause
the truffle aroma to strengthen. In this, truffles and morels are
similar, as dried morels are often preferred by chefs than fresh morels.
In addition, dried material is often easier to store.

One way of using truffles which I have been experimenting with, is drying
the sliced truffles, then powdering the bone-dry truffles, adding to a
salt shaker with a little salt (which acts both as a preservative and as
a dessicant), which I can then sprinkle like pepper or grated parmesan on
pasta dishes.

While the truffle industry in the United States is still in its infantcy,
the market is becoming more aware of truffles and how they can be used in
cuisine. As more recipes/cooking methods are developed and used, more
people try using them. In the past 10 years I have supplied truffles to
two James Beard regional award chefs. Truffles are gradually enjoying
increased utilization, which may translate into a new opportunity for
tree farmers who are interested in developing more markets from the same

Daniel B. Wheeler

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