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From two truffles to thousands

Nine years ago the first truffles were produced in New Zealand under trees that had been successfully inoculated by Crop & Food Research scientist, Ian Hall. From small beginnings and sound technology there is now the basis of a thriving gourmet edible fungi production industry in New Zealand.

Dr Hall began to look at ways of infecting the roots of oak and hazelnut seedlings with the truffle fungus in 1984. By 1987, he was successful and the first truffières (truffle plantations) were established in New Zealand. Truffles weren’t expected for eight to ten years, but Dr Hall’s efforts were rewarded in 1993 when a five-year-old truffière near Gisborne produced two small truffles.

Today, this truffière produces up to 65 kilograms of Périgord black truffles. About one third of these are grade 1 quality. New Zealand-produced grade 1 truffles sell for more than $3000 a kilogram and potential returns in suitable localities are in excess of $200,000 per hectare.

Five other New Zealand truffières are also producing Périgord black truffles in the Bay of Plenty, Taumarunui, Paraparaumu, near Nelson, and North Canterbury. Now there are 80 truffières around the country and demand for trees inoculated with the truffle fungus has steadily grown. Crop & Food Research has twice expanded its production facilities. It has two production units at Lincoln and Invermay and production continues to increase. In 2003, it anticipates supplying in excess of 20,000 trees.

Crop & Food Research has established a joint-venture company, TRINZ International Ltd, to commercialise the truffle technology. TRINZ International Ltd recently launched an investment portfolio for several truffières being developed at Mangawhai Park near Wellsford.

While Dr Hall enjoys watching his truffle technology fruit in large volumes he and his colleagues have their sights set on more success with other edible fungi. Their area of expertise is with mycorrhizal mushrooms which form close symbiotic relationships with their host trees. Amongst these are some of the most expensive foods in the world including the Périgord black truffle, Italian white truffle and matsutake (a Japanese delicacy).

Dr Hall and Professor Wang Yun have also cultivated the Japanese delicacy shoro (above), and the first cultivated saffron milk cap (below) was produced in a radiata pine plantation in North Otago in March this year. Advances in cultivation have also been made with bianchetto and Burgundy truffles. Bianchetto truffle and saffron milk cap are hosted by Pinus radiata and would make an excellent secondary crop in New Zealand’s extensive plantation forests.

Some progress has been made in the cultivation of Italian white truffle, porcini and matsutake, but Dr Hall and Professor Wang Yun admit that these are the holy grails of mycorrhizal mushrooms and they would be happy to cultivate just one of them in their lifetime.(source – Crop & Food)

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