The perfect ingredient: black winter Périgord truffle

Our search for the perfect truffle started with two words overheard in a market – “Spanish truffles”. This sent Wellocks’ buyer Jean Lesbazeilles on a mission to bring you the best truffles available today – the black winter Périgord truffle.

On a remote plateau in the foothills of the mountains of southern Spain is 4,000 hectares dedicated to the production of truffles. The location of this fantastic place – the El Dorado of European truffle hunters – is kept secret and no wonder. Currently over 80% of truffles produced in Europe are being farmed here – over 80 tonnes per year – and there’s 2,500 hectares slated for future production.

Truffles are a kind of ‘underground mushroom’ that grow in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of some tree species; tree and truffle actually help each other to grow and the relationship is termed ‘mycorrhizal’. Ripe truffles are strong smelling and a very tasty treat for wild boars who naturally propagate them throughout the forest. The right soil, the right tree and the animal together create a trinity that produces a delicious natural product that’s been hunted throughout Europe for centuries.

In the 19th century truffles began to be commercially farmed in France and there have been moves to revive and improve this process. In the past 30 years, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research has worked with the Italians to improve mycorrhization and develop commercial techniques, but the Spaniards are way ahead of the game.

We set out to find out why. Our journey took us to southern Spain to an area that’s well-known to the truffle buyers of France and Italy who load up their vans with 500 to 600 kilos of truffles during the season and head off home to market. Unsurprisingly, they want to keep this area and its fabulous truffle harvest a secret, but we sniffed it out.

Now, with the help of a local family who have farmed truffles for three generations, Wellocks is excited to be able to bring you fresh from Spain, the tuber melanosporum, the black winter Périgord truffle!

In fact, we were so excited by what we found in Spain that we couldn’t tear ourselves away – missing a train and a plane and ending up spending two days with our truffle grower learning the trade and some of their family secrets.

The expertise of the Spaniards of this area in cultivating truffles is astounding and it has allowed them to become the best growers and producers in the world. Instinctively, they seem to know how to grow truffles better than anyone else.

They have the perfect conditions to start with; red limon soil with chalk stones – identical to Périgord in France – that’s totally natural and chemical free, the right amount of sun and water, and frost, which is vital to ripen the winter truffle.

Truffles are 100% organic. They cannot be made to grow, only encouraged to produce and produce well. In Spain, our truffle supplier has developed special propagation methods using certain species of trees – a process that takes up to 10 years before achieving a first crop.

We were privileged to be allowed on a truffle hunt with our supplier and his highly-trained dog and as soon as we put a foot in the orchard, we could smell the truffles. Guided by his dog who sniffs out and marks the spot where a subterranean treasure has reached the right moment to be harvested, our supplier carefully scratches away a few inches of topsoil to reveal a perfectly ripe truffle.

Seeing the partnership between the grower and his dog, the care of the trees and the respect for the soil was fascinating. The truffle growers we met were fantastic, knowledgeable, passionate and reveal great expertise and skill at every stage of the cultivation process.

These are the highest quality truffles in the market. From the scented earth of the plateaus of southern Spain to your kitchen in less than 36 hours, could anything be more naturally delicious?

Did you know?

  • Truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus – one of the many species of the genus Tuber
  • French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called truffles “the diamond of the kitchen”
  • Truffles feature in French, Georgian, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and Spanish cooking, and classic haute cuisine
  • Best truffle hunters are pigs who do it instinctively and highly-trained dogs
  • Nuns and monks were once forbidden truffles because of their aphrodisiac properties
  • Largest recorded truffle was a white Alba truffle found in Umbria in 2014 weighing 1.89 kilos
  • Ancient Greeks believed truffles were created by lightning