When Labradors Noora and Neea put their specially-trained noses to work, they’re striking black gold in southwest Finland – but this black gold isn’t oil, it’s truffles.
The dogs are rooting around in the undergrowth to find the latest crop of luxury fungus, which can take a decade or more to grow.
Truffles, more usually associated with Southern European countries, and famously unearthed by pigs, are now also found in some specific farmed areas around Turku.
“The story of truffle is the same as caviar which all used to come from nature and the wild, but now it comes from sturgeon farms” explains Lars Ingman from Baltic Truffle.
“It’s the same with truffles. Since the 1970s they are planting truffle orchards, you can inoculate oak, hazel, hazelnuts and grow them in a special substrate to develop an inoculated plant. Most truffles come now from these big established truffle orchards in France and Italy” he tells News Now Finland.
The earliest efforts to cultivate truffles in the 19th century ended up being wildly successful – by taking seedlings from individual oak trees known to produce truffles in their roots, and re-planting them in large orchards.
However, several factors including the relatively short productive lifespan of the trees; increasing migration away from the countryside; and the loss of labour and agricultural land during WWI in France meant those 19th century orchards were largely lost, making the truffles a more rare and valuable commodity once again.
Long wait for Finnish truffles pays off
After a long wait, Lars Ingman has finally hit the jackpot, with his truffle harvest this year producing several kilos.
The first truffle, weighing just under 60 grams, was found by Lars’s son Martin Ingman and his truffle dog Neea in early October.
But then came a huge – and unexpected – discovery.
“When Noora, bred as a truffle dog, discovered a giant black burgundy truffle, it was obvious that the discovery was significant even for Europeans. It’s an exhibition or competition class Trophée truffle” explains Lars.
The giant truffle weighs 424 grams, a rare size even in traditional truffle growing areas of continental Europe and worth as much as €2,000.
Ingman decided to sell the truffle and use the proceeds for charity. The sale price of the truffle will be donated to the Apuna Association which works with low-income families – and will help towards the cost of a Christmas meal in a restaurant.
The giant truffle might be a once-in-a-lifetime discovery but home-grown Finnish truffles are destined to become more common.
“They will end up in Finnish restaurants for sure. Executive chefs have said they want them because they are excellent quality and very competitive prices” explains Baltic Truffle’s Lars Ingman.
“An unripe truffle has not much flavour at all but when it ripens it develops this tantalizing flavour.”