First cultivation of Black truffles in Scotland

    • Never before cultivated in Scotland

    • Produced south of Edinburgh by British scientist Dr Paul Thomas

    • Worth up-to £900/kg

    • Successful cultivation took 7 years

    • UK set to benefit from an industry worth £4.5 billion in the next 10-20years

    • Cultivation in UK may help offset climate change induced decline in native range

    • First harvest used by Michelin-star Scottish chef, Tom Kitchin

The summer or burgundy black truffle, one of the world’s most expensive ingredients, has been successfully cultivated in Scotland after seven years of waiting.

Researchers from Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd (MSL), working in partnership with local farmers, have successfully cultivated the truffles as part of a programme at a secret site just south of Edinburgh: the first time this has ever been achieved in Scotland. This latest development follows a recent report in the journal Climate Research, suggesting that truffle cultivation potential in the UK is increasing as a result of climate change.

On a sunny but cool November day, a number of truffles were harvested by newly trained dog, Maxwell and his handler Joyce: both part of a team trained by Tynewater K9. The aromatic fungi were growing in the root system of native oak trees that had been treated to encourage truffle production. Further microscopic analysis confirmed that Maxwells’s find was indeed a summer or burgundy truffle (Tuber aestivum syn. uncinatum).

The summer or burgundy truffle is one of the most expensive delicacies in the world, with prices this season exceptionally high and reaching as much as £900 per kilogram. Truffles are prized for their intense flavour and aroma, but their natural habitat in continental Europe has been affected by drought due to long-term climate change, and yields are falling while the global demand continues to rise. The combination of local climatic conditions and the increasing number of plantations developed with our homegrown world-leading technology means that the UK’s foothold in the industry will continue to strengthen - a welcome economic boost for farmers and landowners considering that the truffle industry is projected to be worth £4.5 billion annually in the next 10-20 years.

Truffles grow below ground in a symbiotic relationship with the root system of trees in soils with a high limestone content. However, in cultivation acidic soils can be used and made suitable, which is what was achieved on this Scottish site. There are currently only two truffle plantations in Scotland so more sites need to be planted to develop this into an industry. “While truffles are a very valuable crop, together with their host trees, they are also a beneficial component for conservation and biodiversity.” Added Thomas.

In partnership with local farmers, Dr Paul Thomas, a research associate of the University of Stirling and director of Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd (MSL) has been cultivating truffles in the UK for the past decade. In 2015, MSL were the first to successfully cultivate UK native summer or Burgundy truffles in central England and then in Wales in 2016, but this is the first time it has been achieved this far north and a first for Scotland. Its host tree is a native oak that was planted in 2010. Before planting, the tree was inoculated with truffle spores, and the surrounding soil was made less acidic by treating it with lime. “This is a very highly regarded truffle species and the potential for Scotland is huge,” said Thomas. “We’ve achieved a number of world firsts and even harvested Mediterranean Périgord truffles in the UK earlier this year, but this Scottish advance inches us closer to our ultimate goal the UK becoming pivotal in the global truffle industry”

The first harvested Scottish truffles were used for analysis and further training but the largest, which weighed 45 grams, was gratefully received by Chef Tom Kitchin of the Michelin-starred ‘The Kitchin’ restaurant, in Edinburgh. “Scottish truffles! How exciting! It would be a dream come true to get a good supply of Scottish truffles at The Kitchin. I'm really looking forward to trying them out in some of my favourite seasonal dishes” added Chef Kitchin.

Find out more about  Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd here.

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