Oregon Culinary Truffles
An Emergent Industry for Forestry and Agriculture
A Feasibility Study by David Pilz, Charles Lefevre, Leslie Scott, and James Julian
30 April 2009
Of all the world’s culinary delicacies, truffles stand out as the ultimate luxury food. With the advent of technology to control the symbiosis between truffles and the roots of their host trees, truffles have at last entered the realm of agriculture.
As with French wine grapes, Oregon has the climactic conditions required for truffle production. Given high demand, inadequate global supply and established profitability, Oregon has a unique opportunity to become a world leader in the production of this rare, highly-prized commodity.
Annual truffle commerce is expected to exceed $6 billion within the next two decades, rivaling many other agricultural commodities traded worldwide. With adequate support, cultivated and native truffles produced in Oregon could annually exceed $200 million in direct sales income; counting secondary economic benefits, the value of the industry could exceed $1.5 billion. These figures rival the current value of the state’s lucrative wine industry, and could be greater if Oregon pursues truffle production with similar passion and focus.
Other regions of the U.S., and other countries around the world, already recognize this economic opportunity and are formulating strategies, developing funding, and promoting their own truffle industries. Some are ahead of Oregon in one respect — cultivation of the European truffle species. However, Oregon as a suite of competitive advantages:
- Superb native Oregon truffles that grow in private woodlands.
- Excellent climate and an abundance of suitable soils for cultivating European truffles.
- A world renown, six-decade legacy of truffle research and the greatest concentration of truffle scientists and specialists in the world.
- A local supplier of truffle-inoculated tree seedlings from that scientific community.
- The Oregon Truffle Festival, the first of its kind in the English-speaking world.
- A reputation for fine wine, gourmet dining, tourism, and foods that are produced locally, sustainably and organically.
- A wealth of innovators and entrepreneurs seeking sustainable investment opportunities.
- The potential U.S. and global markets for truffles are vast and the industry is young. Given its abundant resources, Oregon could exceed production in other regions and countries by immediately and vigorously promoting the industry.
In addition to substantial direct and indirect economic benefits, a vibrant truffle industry will provide numerous other advantages. Truffles have a culinary mystique that meshes seamlessly and reciprocally with Oregon’s reputation for outstanding quality of life. As a pinnacle of high cuisine, culinary truffles have the potential to improve the already strong branding of Oregongrown specialty foods and the positive perception of the state as a whole. Truffles will promote Oregon and, in turn, Oregon’s growing reputation as a culinary destination will promote its truffles.
Environmentally, truffles are not only suited to our climate and soils, but can be produced in a sustainable and ecologically friendly manner. They lend themselves to low-input and organic farming methods, and require few resources for production and distribution. One of Oregon’s native truffle species grows in coastal streamside forests that enhance salmon habitat; all of them thrive in newly-planted forests that sequester the greenhouse gas CO2.
Truffle production, possible in a variety of soils and conditions, will support rural livelihoods in agriculture and forestry, as well as employment in research and education, harvesting and processing, and restaurant and retail food businesses. Truffles, both native and cultivated, will help to connect Oregon’s urban and rural communities through the food system, as they have for centuries in the cultural life and market systems of Europe (especially Italy and France).
This feasibility study starts by discussing the culinary allure of truffles; global supply, demand, and production; and the benefits Oregon will accrue from its truffle industry. It then provides detailed information on how to cultivate European truffle species and enhance the state’s native truffle industry. The study concludes by detailing the steps needed to create a world-class truffle industry in Oregon. Appendices provide tables describing potential global demand and a detailed production budget for landowners contemplating establishment of their own truffle orchard.
Anticipated long-range returns on investment are higher than those of virtually any other agricultural enterprise.
As with any new agricultural crop, retaining and engaging technical expertise will greatly facilitate truffle production. Public funding, agency support and collaborative ventures will launch the industry toward success. Meanwhile, Oregon’s competitive edge will be enhanced by empowering landowners, growers, harvesters and buyers with technical know-how, resources and infrastructure.
The study’s authors envision a path to success. Along this path, Oregon farmers will rapidly expand European truffle orchards (truffières). Small woodlot owners will manage their forest for both truffles and trees. Entrepreneurs will use lower-grade truffles to extend sales of value-added truffle products throughout the year. And the tourism industry will showcase truffles as an ideal compliment to the state’s wine, restaurant and outdoor adventure industries. This feasibility study explains the opportunities that a truffle industry offers Oregon and shows how to go about developing a premier industry characterized by high-quality products, ethical business practices, environmentally responsible production, and widely accrued benefits.