The idea of having a truffière
with oaks available for adoption began
to germinate in June 2001 when my daughter,
Hannah, gave me a vine in a Sussex vineyard
as a Fathers’ Day present.
For years I had thought of moving to
France and in February 2002 I came here
for a week of house hunting. One possible,
but far too large a property, stood out
and it had the enormous advantage of
being surrounded by farmland, a bit of
which could be for sale. I returned at
the end of April to look at the house
again and signed contracts to buy both
it and up to two hectares of farmland.
I moved in four months later and one
of my first tasks was to take soil samples
and send them off to a specialist laboratory
for analysis. Several weeks later the
report arrived and the news was fantastic.
The land was highly suitable for truffle
production – all that was needed
was lots of manure to lighten the texture
plus some potassium and phosphorous,
and conditions would be perfect.
Sixty tons of manure is not an easy
thing to find but my neighbour raises
chickens and he had lots of well-rotted
stuff available. The land was manured,
ploughed and harrowed and left over winter
for the frosts to break up the fairly
heavy clay. In spring the phosphorous
and potassium were spread and, because
the chicken manure was pretty acidic,
I added enough lime to raise the pH by
Next the whole area was enclosed with
wire mesh supported by acacia fence posts
to keep out deer, wild boar, other animal
life and, ultimately, truffle poachers.
Fortunately there are not many truffières
in Le Gers and, I hope, fewer potential
plunderers. Following another harrowing
the entire area was divided into plots
of 20 square metres with several kilometres
of plastic string and planting began.
I had ordered 100 trees (90 one year olds and 10 three year olds) from an old-established company in Grignan, a small town about an hour North of Avignon. The family had been growing truffles for some six generations and the grandfather of the current management team had been producing ‘treated’ truffle oaks several decades before INRA, the French agricultural research body, made public their own research efforts. The first trees were planted in very early April 2003 and immediately thereafter the watering system was installed. Meanwhile, following articles in The Financial Times, The Times and The Week, adoptions had begun to flood in. So a second batch of 100 trees was ordered. After administrative foul-ups and ten days in transit they finally arrived on 22nd May, looking as if the boxes had been kicked all the way from Grignan – far, far too late in the season to plant; but we did! And their arrival signalled the start of the canicule – the hottest and driest three months ever to hit France, with hardly a drop of rain and temperatures exceeding 40ºC for days on end. It was only thanks to the new watering system that any of them survived at all.
Two years later it was evident that the one year old trees were rapidly catching up their older brethren and so a further 200 youngsters were ordered and planted in April 2005 to accommodate the growing number of adoptions. And demand continued to accelerate. The natural solution was to buy the remaining piece of the field in front of Le Gardian, increasing the truffière from one hectare to almost three. A further 450 trees were planted in perfect conditions in November 2006, this time bought from Robin Pépinières, one of two nurseries producing truffle oak seedlings under licence from INRA. They were beautiful little trees, of very even quality, and all individually numbered. They have settled in superbly helped by the atrocious, wet summer of 2007 which gave them the best possible start. These trees filled up the original truffière with some 270 spilling over into the newly purchased area. A further 400 trees were bought in November 2008. The weather, however, was diabolical and they sat around waiting to be planted until April 2009. Conditions were still far from perfect but they finally went in to be greeted very shortly after by a spell of beautiful rain followed by a warm summer. They have settled in remarkably well and are looking very good. There is still space in the truffière for 150 or so further trees but these will not be planted until 2011 at the earliest. And then? Le Gers covers 6,257 square kilometres, enough room, by my calculation, to grow 250 million truffle trees. Though, I guess, I’d have to leave some roads - and planning permission to demolish Auch Cathedral could be tough to get.