Pierre Sourzat and his Golden Retriever Leo finding black truffles / Photo Courtesy of Pierre Sourzat
Where Pierre Sourzat goes, truffles follow. “Everywhere in the world where we talk about truffles, I have been,” says the 70-year-old Frenchman, who founded La Station Trufficole de Cahors-Le Montat more than 30 years ago and consults on the development of truffle orchards everywhere from Paso Robles, California to Perth, Australia. “I have been in China, I have been in Japan. I have been in South Africa, Morocco, Finland—everywhere, even in the U.K.”
Today, black truffles—the most commercially viable version of this fungal delicacy, which historically hail from France, Spain and Italy—can be found on every continent except Antarctica. “Where there is wine, you can produce truffles,” says Sourzat, who lives in southwestern France, very close to where he grew up. “It’s almost the same ecology, almost the same requirements.” The keys are a Mediterranean climate, high-pH soils and strategic irrigation, plus the presence of young trees whose roots have been properly inoculated with Tuber melanosporum spores. Sounds easier than it is.
Climate change is enabling the spread. “You can produce farther north in the Northern Hemisphere and farther south in the Southern Hemisphere,” he explains.
Truffle Hunter Pierre Sourzat / Photo Courtesy of Pierre Sourzat
Though truffle hunting runs in his ancestral blood—his paternal grandfather, who had the same name, was a famous truffle expert—Sourzat wasn’t born a fan. He recalls foraging for truffles with his maternal grandmother at age four and then being served their bounty. “The first time I tasted truffle, I was not very interested because the truffle was black and I suspected something was wrong,” he remembers. He was a quick convert, though, incorporating truffle searches into his love for finding (and eating) mushrooms, such as morels and chanterelles in the spring and summer, followed by porcini in the fall. (He also collected snails to sell for pocket change as a kid.) His two grown daughters are also fans, inheriting his love and enjoying truffles in omelets or atop tagliatelle.
It’s increasingly possible to find homegrown truffles around the world, thanks to people like Sourzat. Take Australia, where the country’s $40-million truffle industry competes with the Old World’s output. The United States is another hotbed: You’ll find cultivated truffles on both coasts, ranging from North Carolina to Virginia and Washington to Oregon—where there’s also a booming market for native truffle foraging. Oregon’s first farmed truffle was found in the Willamette Valley in 2013; meanwhile, growers in the Walla Walla Valley are hoping to tap a new market by harvesting truffles earlier than anywhere else.