Truffle Enterprise

truffler1635 at my-deja.com truffler1635 at my-deja.com
Sat Dec 2 21:10:18 EST 2000


The following article ran in the Salem (OR) Capital Express on Feb. 28,
1997, p 21

Tennis elbow spawns a Truffle Enterprise

By Sue Swartzendruber

	Oregon City, Ore. - Paul Bishop started out with a Christmas tree
plantation in 1980, but through a twist of fate and an interest in
mycology, he ended up with a truffle farm.
	He planted his farm to Douglas fir but as the trees grew, and the
labor of pruning began, Bishop found he was not physically up to the
task. With the repetitive pruning motion, he developed tennis elbow.
	Then each member of the family involved with the task also developed
tennis elbow. The trees continued to grow but without proper management,
they weren't suitable for the Christmas tree market. He decided to thin
them and create a forest instead.
	Meanwhile, as a member of the North American Truffling Society, in
1986 Bishop invited his fellow members for a truffle forage among his
overgrown Christmas trees.
	At this truffle dig was Dan Wheeler of Portland. Wheeler had long
had an interest in mycology. Under the tutelage of Helen Gilkey, botany
professor at Oregon State University, he recalls being urged to become
involved in the study of truffles.
	His response was, "But Dr. Gilkey, there are no truffles in North
America." Later he discovered her master's thesis at University of
California-Berkely in 1919 was "The Tuberales of North America."
	As it was with him, he says "there is a lot of learning and
unlearning to do about truffles." Many species of truffles are to be
found growing underground in the forests from Birtish Columbia to
Northern California.
	Different trees spawn different varieties of truffles.
Identification is difficult for many species, but the effort can be very
rewarding. The Oregon white truffle is most in demand because it is most
comparable to the Italian white truffle.
	"The Italian white truffle is harvested commercially in Europe,
commanding $100 per pound. The larger truffles over a quarter-inch in
diameter command an even higher price," says Wheeler. "The demand for
truffles is far outgrowing the availability." No Italian whites are grown
in America.
	The Oregon White truffle is a small, brownish, nearly round or
convoluted fungus, marbled within and with a very distinct odor. Oregon
white truffles grow under the soil around Douglas fir trees.
	It was at the Bishop farm truffle forage in 1986 that Wheeler found
his first Oregon white truffle. Bishop and Wheeler formed a friendship
that developed into a partnership for commercial propogation of fungi,
concentrating on the Oregon white truffle.
	Initially, they found Oregon whites under about one in every 20 to
25 trees at the Bishop plantation. They then devised a method of
inoculating the forest. Two years later they were finding truffles under
every tree and in considerable numbers.
	In addition, the trees in the plantation began growing 6 to 6 1/2
feet in height per year, with one tree growing as much as 9 feet.
	Wheeler explains the rapid tree growth: Research has found truffles
and other mycorrhizal fungi are essential to all plant life on earth.
Truffles become the major food supply for red-backed voles.
	The voles eat the fungi and excrete the spores some distance away.
Voles are a main food source for the spotted owl, which eats the vole,
further scattering the spores. The scattering increases the mycorrhizal
fungi in the soil, which is the key to bringing nutrients and moisture to
the roots of the trees.
	Continued experimentation with inoculation and cultivation has paid
off for Bishop and Wheeler. Initial projections had the plantation
producing 50 pounds of truffles per acre with approximately 20 percent
being Oregon whites.
	Today, overall truffle production has greatly increased and Oregon
whites are the predominant species. Harvest from some trees is up to 3 to
3 1/2 pounds of Oregon whites, which can be sold for $100 per pound.
Harvest extends from November into July.
	Bishop and Wheeler are in the process of obtaining a patent on their
method of inoculation.
	The trees in the plantation have become quite crowded and they have
begun some thinning. Dead branches are pruned regularly and recycled in a
variety of ways to enhance the soil, with rapid decay always encouraged.
	Besides Oregon whites, Bishop and Wheeler also collect a great
variety of underground fungi from the plantation. Unknown species of
truffles found in their forages are shipped to Jim Trappe at the OSU
Forest Sciences Lab for identification.
	Not all underground fungi are truffles but there are many species of
truffles, not all recommended for eating.
	Bishop highly recommends joining the NATS to anyone interested in
truffle harvesting. Harvesting alongside experienced foragers can be very
educational.
	"Also, as a note of caution," Wheeler says, "edible truffles must
always be inspected for insects." A millipede, with a very distinctive
odor and known to contain potassium cyanide, sometimes enters the
truffle. Eating this millipede can be deadly.
	Bishop and Wheeler have made great strides in the production of
truffles during the last 10 years. With their knowledge it could become
the commerical crop of the woods, Wheeler says.
	"A tree that can produce $300 to $350, year after year, is much more
valuable left standing than cut for lumber. Not only is the truffle an
edible crop, its production greatly enhances its environment, causing
more rapid growth of the trees.
	"It also denies the Douglas fir root rot a hold on the root by
producing microtoxins, which are poisonous to the root rot fungus."

Comment by poster: Note that this article ran in 1997. In 1999 and again
in 2000, Paul's plantation has not produced significant quantities of
truffles. The reason, I suspect, is lack of rainfall. Trees are also very
crowded, which could have an impact on truffle production, especially if
the soil is dry, as it is at this time. From $100/lb in 1997 to $330/lb
today: sounds like a growth industry. But compare that to the current
price of Italian white truffles (reported at $430/ounce in mid-November),
and Oregon truffles are still a bargain.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
www.oregonwhitetruffles.com


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