Truffle business starts literally from ground up

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at
Tue Nov 5 21:25:20 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, Dec. 19, 1985

Truffle business starts literally from ground up

By CAROL SERVINO, Correspondent, The Oregonian
	ABERDEEN, Wash. - The forest products industry may be down, but a
couple of local entrepreneurs are banking on some new growth.
	Almost a year ago Diane Ellison and Jerry Walen planted 11,000
seedling trees. Then, they planted 950 more and expect the latter to
produce a profitable secondary crop of truffles, rare and exotic
mushrooms, the most highly regarded of which sell for more than $350 a
	It will be several years before they know if they have a crop beneath
the 950 trees that were inoculated with truffle spores before being
	But, even if the 450 imported European trees don't grow truffles, the
two are confident the 500 domestic Douglas firs will produce tuber
gibbosum, known in the Pacific Northwest as the native truffle.
	Ellison said she and Walen, her fiance and partner in Ellison
Truffles, have invested nearly $10,000 in their business gamble.
	"These trees will always be worth more down the line than they are
now. ... If you have to wait all those years, wouldn't it be nice to
get a truffle from them each year?" she said.
	The specially treated trees, 100 Italian oak, 350 French oak and
filbert, and 500 Douglas fir, have been planted on four acres of land
a few miles north of Aberdeen in the Wishkah Valley of Grays Harbor
	Across the two-lane road from their farmland lies the Wishkah River,
now a lazy waterway but once a busy highway for transporting logs.
	Forestry is not new to Ellison. She was born and raised in the
Wishkah Valley on land that her grandfather, a logger, bought in 1910.
Ellison and her late father, Russ Ellison, were world champion log
rollers and lived just across the road from the river. Although she
had lived in California for the past 20 years, she returned last year
when her father died to run the family business, Ellison Timber and
Properties, which manages 380 acres of timber land.
	Ellison has a master's degree from Chapman College in Orange, Calif.,
and once did an internship there on high-yield forestry management and
secondary crops.
	"That was even before I had heard about truffles," Ellison said.
	Ellison and Walen first learned about truffles in September 1984 at a
management symposium at the University of California, Los Angeles.
During a break, they chatted with a woman who said she was looking for
some trees on which to grow truffles.
	"I wondered, ‘What kind of chocolate do you eat?'" Ellison said,
thinking of the chocolate variety. After talking for nearly two hours
with the woman, Ellison decided to do her own legwork.
	Later, she and Walen researched truffles and became fascinated when
they learned that truffles can command as much as $14,000 per acre for
the more expensive European varieties. They also learned that the
harvest in Europe is decreasing while the demand increases. Results of
cultivation in other parts of the world have been sporadic, hence the
high prices.
	While some trees inoculated with French truffle spores have been
planted in Texas and Northern California, no one has harvested them
yet, Ellison said, and at this time, Ellison Truffles' trees from
Italy are the only ones of their kind in this country, she said.
	They purchased the trees from Gary Menser, a truffle expert of Oregon
Truffle Farms in West lake, who is working on research at Oregon State
University in Corvallis with James Trappe, considered to be one of the
leading mycologists in the world. Ellison and Walen are relying on
Menser for technical  advice and soil analyses.
	Inoculation of the imported trees took place abroad where the roots
of the seedlings were dipped in solutions containing Italian White
truffle spores and French black truffle spores. The domestic trees
were treated with native Oregon and Washington truffle spores. Ellison
has been assured the truffles and trees live in a symbiotic
relationship, both benefiting from the other.
	Ellison and Walen won't know for almost four years whether there are
truffles under the trees. The success of their business venture
depends largely upon the interaction of science and nature. They were
concerned that the frosts would hurt the trees, now in dormant stage,
but they ound new buds this week, indicating growth.
	In Europe, muzzles pigs are used to sniff out and dig up the
delicacies but when it's time to harvest the truffles, Ellison
Truffles probably will use dogs.
	Unlike pigs, which are naturally attracted to the scent of truffles
and tend to eat some in the process, dogs can be trained to find
truffles - and be rewarded with something else, Walen said.
	While Ellison and Walen are playing a waiting game, Ellison said as
soon as they get some indication that they have truffles growing under
their trees they will plant more.

Comment by poster: Until I found this article in The Oregonian's
files, I had heard nothing about it. Please note the date the article

Daniel B. Wheeler

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