In 2011, I attended the CIA, not the international spy organisation, but the world renowned Culinary Institute of America. During one course, Cuisines of the Americas, I was asked to write a research paper on a topic related to food in America. I chose to explore the exciting world of truffles, particularly their effect on the cuisine of the north west United States, in places like Seattle. Truffles are a prized gastronomic delight that have captured the hearts of Europeans for centuries, and truffles, despite their price tag are popping up more frequently on American menus.
I don’t remember any details of the paper, but what I do remember was doing the research. My readings included numerous books on truffles, included one book, which was not only dedicated to recipes, but spoke about how to grow them and where they are found in the wild; Taming the Truffle: The History, Lore, and Science of the Ultimate Mushroom. You can imagine my utter delight at seeing Bulgaria on the page, as a country where truffles are found in the wild. I pulled every article and book I could find… Immediately the cogs started spinning… I was not longer interested in the impact of truffles on the US food scene, but the possibility of growing truffles in Bulgaria.
In 2012, my husband Angel and I decided to invest in a truffle orchard. We had begun securing the land for the plantation, in a villiage outside of Kyustendil that met the specific soil requirements to grow the Périgord truffle, French winter truffle, scientifically known as tuber melanosporum. As part of our research, we visited a truffle tree nursery in France, where we purchased our trees, AgriTruffe.
We began the next phase of our truffle project in 2013, which was preparing the land and planting our new trees. The initial planting was about 600 tree in 1.6ha of land. Growing truffles is not like growing cherries or potatoes. The reason why truffles are expensive, is because they are difficult to cultivate.
Once the orchard was planted in April 2013, the next step was to care for the trees for the next 5- 10 years and hope for truffles. In the intrim, we planted an additional 200 trees on .6ha. We now had about 800 trees on 2.2ha. Honestly, the waiting was the worst part. We had invested a significant amount of time and energy to cultivating this mysterious mushroom, which is relatively unknown outside of luxury dining circles… It was a precarious few years where we went through the motions… pouring our good vibes into our trees and hoping for the best.
During my time at the Culinary Institute, I had worked a dinner dedicated the Black truffle, which allowed me to experience them first hand. Angel on the other hand hadn’t even smelt or tasted a truffle before agreeing to go along with my plans… while we waited… that was the one element that we could rectify. In January 2017, Angel and I went to Bordeaux to visit and experience truffle culture. We went on two guided hunts with Fabrice and Vincent, other clients of our truffle tree provider Agri-Truffe. It was an amazing experience that truly ignited our desires and passion for truffles and an eventual fruitful orchard.
In February 2019, our orchard was almost 5 years old, it was on the early end of the hunting spectrum, but we were optimistic. We purchased a trained truffle dog, who is unfortunately no longer with us, and decided to give him a go to explore our orchard. Our expectations were low, but we were pleasantly surprised to find our first truffle. Our experiment was success… well… at least it gave us hope. As far as we know, we are the first truffle orchard in Bulgaria cultivating tuber melanosporum.
We were cautiously optimist for the rest of the 2019/2020 truffle season… It had been a mere 9 months since we found our first truffle… The stakes were a bit higher, because we were giving a television interview with Bulgaria On Air, The Returned with Petya Kertikova (“Завърналите се с Петя Кертикова” at Bulgaria ON AIR). The interview was with Angel and he was going to take our new dogs, Lara and Claire out for the first hunt of the season, which resulted in a truffle, found on camera…
While we didn’t have a huge haul throughout the season, we managed a few hundred grams, mostly for ourselves, but we did manage to sell some to a few restaurants in Sofia.
The 2020/2021 season is off to a banging start. We have found truffles every week since the beginning of October, true it is too early and the truffles were a bit underippened, but they are coming out consistently and this is massively encouraging. I have been experimenting in the kitchen with some truffle recipes to eventually share, but for now… the pictures will have to do.