Book Review

The Black Truffle: Its History, Uses and Cultivation
Edited by Ian Hall, Gordon Brown and James Byars

Cover: The Black Truffle

The Black Truffle, by Ian Hall, Gordon Brown and James Byars is a beautiful little book. It could rest comfortably on your coffee table between those big books of landscape photos from Montana and covered bridge photos from Vermont. Needless to say it's a hardcover book printed on high quality, glossy paper with some terrific color photos. It is aimed at encouraging and supporting the developing truffle industry in New Zealand, but its its content is applicable to anyone, anywhere who is considering truffle cultivation.

The mouth watering recipes were enough to get us started. If names like 'Terrine of Venison with Truffle' or 'Loin of Pork Stuffed with Truffles' don't arouse your taste buds, perhaps the photos will. This section alone is enough to make us want to try truffle cultivation - alas our high desert climate just won't do.

The book includes a well-researched history of the truffle beginning with comments made by Theophrastus in about 300 BC. Since then truffles have variously been thought to be 'children of the gods' or grown from the 'spit of witches'. Today the knowledge base about truffles is growing in support of cultivation efforts.

The book includes color photo micrographs of the mycorrhiza of Tuber melanosporum; photos of the typical brule or dead zone surrounding host plants; maps of the truffle areas of Europe; photos of the type of soils in which truffles grow; photos of the developing truffieres of New Zealand as well as irrigation techniques, windbreaks and much more. Yet this is not really a picture book.

The well-referenced text covers about all that is known about truffle cultivation. Soil and climactic requirements, site selection, soil preparation, windbreaks, irrigation, planting and caring for host plants and even suggested layouts of host plants are all covered. Maintenance of a truffiere ranges from controlling weeds to fertilizing the host plants to fighting diseases and pests. All of these issues are discussed. The authors don't pretend to be the only authorities on this topic. For each issue they outline the experience gained in Europe and provide various examples and options for consideration.

While marketing approaches are discussed, details on realistic yields, cost and ultimate profitability are lacking. Part of this relates to the 'under the counter' markets for truffles which make the needed data generally unavailable. Still, with wholesale prices in Europe, for the very best truffles, at from $390 to $650 per pound and the highest yields of over 250 pounds per acre visions of hundreds of thousands of dollars begin to dance in the heads of prospective growers. It's enough to make a few people willing to work a truffiere for the 10 to 15 years it takes before any return is seen. Before you get started, buy this book and read it carefully. We recommend it highly!

Note that this book is no longer in print. You may be able to find a used copy by clicking the link below.