In March 2017, we planted three areas at Château Mitaud with pre-inoculated oak saplings (Quercus pubecens and Quercus ilex, if you are interested) in the hope that they will eventually produce black Dordogne truffles (Tuber Melanosporum). The first site is in a gap between the red grapes in the vineyard opposite (the part of the vineyard on the left as you look out of the main château is on a calcareous platform which favours the growth of truffles, although it needs to be dug quite deeply to bring the calcium to the surface).

The second is bordering the tennis court on the opposite side from the dépendences, in the newly-cleared area recently bought from our neighbour. The third is in the parc behind the main château in a strip running parallel to the fence with our neighbour. Because all the soils in these test zones were not sufficiently rich in available calcium, we bought 100 tonnes of chalk to incorporate into the soils before planting the pre-inoculated trees in March 2017. We are going to be using 50% pubescent oak and 50% green oak as our carrier trees, which are varietals specially cultivated for truffle production. You can also use hazelnut trees, among others. 

In the above images taken from December 2015 (the harvesting season is from November to February) you can see how a successful truffle farm in production works, as demonstrated by our neighbour Dominique - who trained their poodle 'Trufette' from birth to get her interested in the smell. Dogs have largely taken over from pigs in truffle-hunting in many places, because dogs are less likely to eat the truffle (pigs are, well, pigs and have you ever tried getting a large sow into the back of your car?) - you can see packets of doggie treats in the basket - as long as the dog knows it will get rewarded for finding a truffle, it is more likely to just dig it up and point than eat the truffle. The big truffle Trufette dug up that day was worth not far short of a thousand Euros on the market.

It takes about 5-10 years to produce the first crop of truffles from the date the trees are planted, and exactly how and why truffles reproduce remains something of a mystery (it has not been possible to synthesize them under laboratory conditions). Essentially negatively charged mycelium meets positively charged mycelium underground and voilà! You have a truffle. Melanosporum-inoculated trees have the particularity of creating burnt patches ("brûlés") when they start producing truffles, whereby all the vegetation in a circle around the tree is killed off and dies, leaving a characteristic "crop circle". Many trees are sterile and do not produce truffles for reasons that are not always clear. You can try to reinvigorate the non-performing trees by digging chutes and injecting truffle spores (i.e. chopped up truffles) into them. 

The challenge for us is more logistics: how to find a secure and reliable path for shipping truffles to the markets we know are there in China, as even when vacuum packed, they become unusable mush after about 10 days, so have a short life span.