Editor's Note: The truffiere that was afflicted by disease was incorrectly identified as being in Oregon. The truffiere was actually located in North Carolina.
Local entrepreneurs Aaron and Liz Eckburg of Go Lbs Salt announced plans recently to found the southwest's first commercial truffiere, an orchard for truffles. Due to the incredibly steep costs of starting a truffiere, the Eckburgs have turned to crowd funding to raise the necessary $3.5 million dollars to get their venture off the ground. We spoke with Aaron on Tuesday and he shared some insight into the truffle growing business.
Much like his fancy salt business, work on the truffiiere concept started as a simple conversation with friends. While working their stand at the Gilbert Farmers' Market, Aaron struck up a conversation with a local farmer. They talked casually about what it would take to grow black truffles locally and thus reduce the cost of making Go Lbs' very popular black truffle salts. Idle conversation turned into "a ton of research" which in turn became some serious inquiries with the handful of American truffle experts.
What Aaron's research revealed is that Arizona actually has some excellent spots where truffles could potentially grow.
To understand why we need to talk a little about what the heck a truffle actually is (besides expensive) and how one goes about growing them commercially.
Truffles are basically mushrooms that grow underground and in a symbiotic relationship with the trees above them. This symbiosis is what makes growing them so difficult. You can't grow a truffle directly. You have a plant a grove of trees, lace the roots with fungal spores and hope that all the conditions are right to support the trees and the truffles. Aaron says that the growing of truffles is controlled by so many variables that the ancient Greeks once theorized that they came about when lightening struck tree roots.
Soil composition and climate are the two keys to truffle production.
Which brings us back to why Arizona might actually have a shot at growing truffles. Arizona has three major wine growing regions: Wilcox, Senoita and Sedona, all of which,. Aaron says, have similar climate to truffieres located near wineries in Spain. The other half of the equation is is the soil. He has sent out soil samples to experienced truffieres and they have reportedly said that the soil is "almost perfect."
Even better, Arizona does not suffer from some of the tree diseases that have blighted truffieres in other parts of the country. He mentioned a truffiere in North Carolina that met with some initial positive results but had their orchards decimated by disease.
The initial plan is to grow black truffles of the French perigord variety. This is the most common type of truffle you're likely to run into. His long term goal is to expand their operation to include white truffles. This would be quite the coupe since white truffles travel poorly and are rarely, if ever found in the US.
And when he says "long term" he really means it. Conservatively, a truffiere takes between 5-10 years to establish and Aaron's goal is to found a "legacy" truffiere, one that will continue to produce truffles for decades. Their Indiegogo pitch indicates that it will take approximately 10 years to become financially viable. Due to how slow truffles grow, evidence that their cultivation has been successful might take 6-8 years.
But Aaron is undeterred, he hopes to have inoculated oak trees planted as early as next spring or fall 2013 at the latest. While he admits that $3.5 million is not exactly pocket change he points out that Indiegogo's rules allow him to take a portion of the initial donations and invest those directly into the business. This mean he won't need the full amount to purchase the land they have in mind or to buy the trees he requires.