History of Growing Truffles
Worldwide, truffles have been harvested and eaten as a luxury food for thousands of years. France has always been the major truffle growing and consuming country. In the late 1980’s perigord truffles (Tuber melanosporum) were first imported into New Zealand from France along with French technology used to infect and grow trees for truffle production.
Now there are over 60,000 trees in New Zealand, most of them infected with Tuber melanosporum. There are also a number of trees infected with either Tuber aestivum (burgundy truffle) or Tuber borchii (white truffle). Truffles have been harvested in New Zealand for about 20 years from about 25 various truffieres located between mid-Canterbury and near Auckland.
Future For Growing Truffles in New Zealand
European truffle production is limited by the lack of large-scale farms, relatively low levels of technical skill and business expertise within the farming community, and enormous competition from other forms of land use. Total truffle production varies from 10 to 50 tonnes annually. To achieve more yield certainty plantings of truffieres in Europe is becoming planned and deliberate. This includes preliminary analyses of pH, soil texture and presence or otherwise of competing fungi. In order to be economically viable these truffiers will need a watering system, ongoing management care and a properly trained dog for the harvesting.
Partly following on from developments in France, but also as a consequence of successes with other new specialist crops “downunder”, there has been growing interest from New Zealand and Australia in establishing a truffle industry. Both countries have been growing black truffles for a number of years (and it is believed that many more truffles are grown in New Zealand than are found largely because of the scarcity of well trained dogs). The soil and climate conditions required by truffles and their host trees exist in both countries, and both have the high technical and management skills required to make black truffle growing a success (however it is still a young industry and ongoing research and developments are being made with varying degrees of success).
At present there have been about 50,000 trees planted on more than 150 sites in New Zealand, most of which have fewer than 600 trees. Plantations which are producing truffles can be found from Bay of Plenty to mid Canterbury. Because of the relatively small size of the existing truffieres it is difficult to extrapolate precise production data but yields equivalent to well over 50kg/hectare have already been achieved on some sites. About 30 truffieres are now being regularly harvested.