They may not have the allure of white truffles found in northern Italy, but pecan truffles are growing in popularity among Southern US gastronomes.
Pecan truffles, first discovered in the 1980s, are a growing commodity in Georgia, and they’re catching on with gourmets, who are increasingly experimenting with them.
Dr. Tim Brenneman, a University of Georgia plant pathologist, has researched pecan truffles since he discovered them in the mid 1980s. His research involves inoculating trees with the fungus responsible for truffles, according to Southeast Farm Press.
“Right now, the main limitation for truffles is lack of consistent availability,” Brenneman said. “They’re underground; they’re hard to find. We’re doing research on producing truffles more consistently by inoculating trees with the fungus, and then, when you plant the trees, it may take a while, but they will eventually start growing truffles on their roots.”
While white truffles sell for as much as $1,200 a pound wholesale, pecan truffles are a little more affordable, going for between $200 and $300 a pound, according to Southeast Farm Press.
Pecan truffles vary in color from light to dark brown, and range in size from a small ball bearing up to a golf ball, with some occasionally larger. Most will have lobes and irregularities, and have a conspicuously “marbled” appearance with alternating streaks of brown and white.
The hard part, as with more expensive varieties, is locating the esteemed fungi. Now, just as in Europe, individuals are turning to truffle dogs.
“In the past, nearly all of the truffles we had in Georgia were just found by people going out with rakes during late summer at pecan harvest, when the truffles were being exposed, and picking them up,” Brenneman said. “Having dogs that are specifically trained for these truffles really helps find the truffles. It also improves the quality of truffles found because they’re locating the mature truffles. The dogs just go to the ones that have the strongest odor, and those are the most mature truffles and most desired by the chefs using them.”
There is high demand for truffles, especially from chefs, but there are only a few people marketing truffles and not a large supply.
Brenneman first discovered pecan truffles in the soil around pecan trees in commercial orchards in south Georgia. It also has been found in Texas and Florida.
It thrives in some pecan orchards and, in favorable years, can be found readily. Some growers report sweeping them up with the pecans at harvest, only to separate them out with sticks, rocks and other debris, and disposing of them.
Brenneman noted that it is very different from renowned white and black truffles, found primarily in Europe. The pecan truffles is a unique fungus with a flavor and texture all its own.
(Top: Pecan truffles shown amid pecans in a south Georgia orchard. Photo credit: Dr. Tim Brenneman.)