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South Africa's Truffle Farm

Photographer: Nic Bothma

 

Think of black truffles and the Perigord in the French region of Dordogne immediately comes to mind, being home to one of the most commercially valuable species of the delicacy that was once described by an esteemed French gourmand as ‘the diamond of the kitchen’. But a new source of wild truffles has now sprung up following a successful joint venture by South African farmers who have updated the description to ‘black diamonds’.

 

Volker Miros, a native of Stuttgart, Germany, started research in 2002 into the viability of truffle farming after discovering they were sourced by the Khoi, the native pastoralist people of south western Africa, many hundreds of years ago. The results of the research have seen him specializing in the farming of the Perigord truffle – commonly known as fungiculture. Miros discovered his love for fresh mushrooms in his childhood. Every Sunday he went with his grandfather to pick mushrooms in the forest. ‘Then, the fresh mushrooms were finely chopped and added to the Sunday roast. This is a taste and smell that you never forget', says the 75-year-old farm owner.

 

South Africa’s first commercially viable truffle farm ‘Goedgedacht’ (Lit: Good Idea) is located near the village of Berg Op which is surrounded by orange-red rocks at 1100 meters above sea level in the barren Cederberg. Woodford Truffles partner with five farmers and landowners on 50 hectares of land, which have the right conditions in which to cultivate black truffles and a similar climate as Miro’s farm ‘Goedgedacht’. The European delicacy fetches over one thousand euros per kilogram and is one of the most expensive edible mushrooms in the world but also very technical and difficult to grow. A truffle plantation needs fairly low temperatures, including frost for South African conditions. Also, the pH of the soil and the humidity have to be right.

 

After thirteen years of research and development, planting acorns and orchards, the first twenty five black truffles from inoculated host trees were discovered by trained truffle dogs on Woodford Farms partner farm Altima in the Langkloof in June 2015, thus marking a breakthrough in its successful cultivation.‘We expect that we reap in the next two years between 50 kilos and 90 kilos of truffles per hectare’ said Miros. ‘Nevertheless, the initial success of this harvest season has attracted the interest of additional landowners and in the next three years, the joint venture plans to plant up to 1,000 hectares with truffle trees’, said his son Paul. But the work does not end here, each truffle farmer who works with Woodford Truffels should get two Beagles per five hectares of cultivation area. Because 'truffle cultivation is an art', laughs Miros. 'Finding the truffles with the dogs who work as harvesters is the other challenge'.