Helsinki University of Technology developing a truffle cultivation technique in Juva

31.07.2009

The goal of the Helsinki University of Technology and Juva Truffle Center is to develop a Finnish truffle cultivation technique and work toward minimising cultivation costs. The planting of truffle mycelium has also been tried on the roots of pine, fir and birch trees. The natural occurrence of truffles ensures that the fungi will grow on pine roots.Questions concerning the possibility of cultivating truffles in Finland have ranged from information on commercial cultivation to the best recipes. The idea to try cultivating truffles got its start in the Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) Faculty of Chemical and Materials Sciences Bioprocess Engineering Laboratory. Publicity garnered by the research has increased the number of citizen contacts, and the discovery of truffles indigenous to Finland has reinforced the idea of successfully cultivating them. This year, three years after the research began, researcher Dr Salem Shamekh can breathe a satisfied sigh of relief, even if this is his fourth summer without a summer holiday. As a scientist he felt a great deal of pressure to succeed when he began his research in truffles. Hardly anyone believed that there were any truffles in Finland, much less that they could ever be cultivated here. As is often the case, there was initially a lot of doubt and little money. Shamekh, however, has nothing but praise for his department’s outstanding, conducive research environment, which made the experiment possible. Photo: Finnish wild truffels 2008.

Juva to be the site for cultivation of the `black diamond´

Truffle mycelium planted on the roots of oak trees have survived cold winters and formed new mycorrhizae. Researchers have managed to keep the soil temperature within the cultivation area  0.5ºC at a depth of 10-15 cm under snow and without snow. The researchers combined two techniques in one experiment to protect the truffle mycelium, thus achieving a 75% reduction in electricity consumption.

“When we started the project in 2006, the winter temperatures in Juva got down to -35ºC. We started with cultivation of the Black summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), because we thought it was better suited to Finnish conditions. The encouraging results from these first three winters, however, made it possible for us to try cultivation the most valuable black truffle of all - The Black Diamond (Tuber melanosporum) ,” explains Shamekh.

Black Diamond truffle = Tuber melanosporum (aka: Périgord black truffle)

 

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Photo: Juva truffel oak plantation with Ectomycorrhiza.


Cultivation outside the growing season of Southern Europe increases the producer price

Research exposure in various media has increased the number of contacts made. The finders of last week’s truffle crop contacted the research team and Shamekh sent a researcher and Mycologist to Puumala to take samples. It was confirmed that fungi will grow naturally on pine roots in Finland. The truffles were identified as Tuscany White truffles (Tuber borchii), whose retail price in Italy is approximately 100-120 euros/kg. In Italy the growing period for these truffles extends from mid-January to the end of April. The Puumala find was made in mid-July. If Finland were to cultivate Tuscany White truffles outside the ‘white truffle’ season in Italy and elsewhere, the producer price would be higher.

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Photo: Microscopic Ectomycorrhiza in oak roots.


Scientific thinking the impetus for trying cultivation

Truffles enjoy a wide renown and are culinary delicacies in Southern Europe. The Finnish climate was considered to be too cold and the soil too acidic to grow truffles. As a researcher Salem Shamekh felt that temperature was not necessarily a decisive factor in growing fungi; after all, chanterelles and other mushrooms grow here in the Nordic countries. Even bacteria protect themselves from the cold. Rainy summer and autumn  generally produce excellent conditions for fungi growth with a proper host plants. 

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Photo: Dr Salem Shamekh examing samples. 


Truffle Center provides guidance for new growers

There are currently some 25 truffle growers in Finland. They are located in, among others, Juva, Rantasalmi, Joroinen, Kouvola, Salo and Porvoo. The number of willing participants was more than the trial could accept. New growers are wanted in different locations so that different growing conditions can also be investigated.

The start-up cost for growing summer truffles is approximately 8000-10,000 euros per hectare . The estimated price paid to growers for summer truffles is 300-400 euros/kg. The retail price is approximately 600-1,000 euros/kg.
Start-up costs depend on the species of truffle and comprehend the mycelium, lime amendment, cultivation instruction, inspection of the mycelium 3-5 times a year and research work. TKK researchers test the soil of a new cultivation site and, among other procedures, measure its temperature every four hours. They also provide advice on choosing the right `field´ and help the grower find a suitable means of protecting the truffles from frost. The truffle crop comes in slowly. At present, the focus is placed on deepening research data and forming an understanding of different variables affecting the soil and growing conditions.

Sceptical questions on whether truffles could be cultivated in Finland have changed to questions concerning the start-up costs of a truffle orchard, the commercialisation of research and the best truffle dishes. Shamekh believes that the demand for truffles would be sufficient even in their country of origin. Interest in truffles would definitely reshape our culinary traditions and habits.

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Photo: Black summer truffle (Tuber aestivum).


Training truffle dogs

The research centre has plans to acquire a trained Italian truffle dog, which has already been used in seeking out truffles. Next year the Juva Truffle Center may offer a course for training dogs to find truffles and host a truffle dog championship. The Center already used several dogs to help in finding truffles last years and had one dog along in Puumala this past July.

In addition to dogs, pigs are also used to find fungi, although only sows have this ability, as the truffle scent is very similar to the pheromone emitted by boars.


Chanterelles and matsutake to be test cultivated

Juva will also be the site for a test cultivation of chanterelles and Japanese favourite matsutake (pine mushrooms). Preliminary results from the test will be available next autumn.

 
Contact information:

Dr Salem Shamekh
Juvan Tryffelikeskus
mobile 0400 208 328
shamekh [at] juvatruf [dot] fi

Helsinki University of Technology
Faculty of Chemistry and Materials Science
Biotechnology and Chemical Technology
Bioprocess engineering
http://chemat.tkk.fi/en/

Photos: Juva Tryffelikeskus

 

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