Beyond pecans, a commodity originating in Georgia's pecan orchards is exciting growers and chefs alike: truffles.
“Thanks to Dr. (Tim) Brenneman, I’ve been able to find truffles and find a market for them,” said Eric Cohen, co-owner of Pecan Ridge Plantation in Decatur County, Georgia.
Brenneman, a University of Georgia plant pathologist based in Tifton, Georgia, has researched pecan truffles since he discovered them in the late 1980s. His research involves inoculating trees with the fungus responsible for truffles.
“Right now, the main limitation for truffles is lack of consistent availability,” Brenneman said. “They’re underground; they’re hard to find. We’re doing research on producing truffles more consistently by inoculating trees with the fungus, and then, when you plant the trees, it may take a while, but they will eventually start growing truffles on their roots.”
Pecan growers can locate truffles, but the latest, perhaps more effective trend is to search for and find truffles using truffle dogs.
“In the past, nearly all of the truffles we had in Georgia were just found by people going out with rakes during late summer at pecan harvest, when the truffles were being exposed, and picking them up,” Brenneman said. “Having dogs that are specifically trained for these truffles really helps find the truffles. It also improves the quality of truffles found because they’re locating the mature truffles. The dogs just go to the ones that have the strongest odor, and those are the most mature truffles and most desired by the chefs using them.”
Truffle dogs have made it easier for farmers, like Cohen, to market truffles and net a profitable venture. He has always had pecan orchards, but only started marketing truffles two years ago. Cohen had no prior knowledge of truffles and wasn’t aware that there was a market for them.
“I heard (Brenneman) say how valuable they were, and that’s what got me quizzing him about them, just the sheer amount of money a pound of truffles costs,” Cohen said. “I would not have done that if it had not been for Dr. Brenneman.”
There is high demand for truffles, especially from chefs, but there are only a few people marketing truffles and not a large supply. Cohen said he developed his market by word of mouth among different chefs.
While European truffles cost thousands of dollars a pound—they’re one of the most expensive foods in the world—one pound of truffles grown in Georgia can sell for $200 to $300, Brenneman said.
For more information on pecan truffles and Brenneman’s research, visit timbrenneman.org.
(Tatyana Phelps is an intern with the UGA Tifton Campus.)