Prince of Truffles: Philip wins battle to grow UK’s first ‘black diamonds’
For Prince Philip, it must have seemed a near-impossible dream. But after years of patience and perseverance, his truffle farm on the Queen’s estate at Sandringham is finally bearing fungus.
And not just any old fungus, but rare black truffles so prized by gourmets that they are nicknamed ‘black diamonds’ and are valued at nearly £1,000 per pound.
The Duke of Edinburgh, 97, who inspected his one-acre ‘truffière’ orchard just before Christmas, is thought to be the first person in Britain to successfully grow the delicacies.
Since 2006, when he bought £5,000 of truffle-impregnated trees, reports have suggested he was engaged in a fruitless exercise.
France is the world’s biggest producer of truffles. The fungus grows around roots of beech, oak and hazel trees and favours alkaline soil, which is prevalent at Sandringham in Norfolk. Truffles can be as small as a penny or as large as a golf ball.
The Duke drafted in trained dogs and Italian experts in 2010 to find truffles around his trees, but nothing emerged. It was later claimed it would be 2021 before he was likely to achieve a crop.
However, Adrian Cole, a director of Truffle UK, which supplied the trees, revealed that the Duke has defied expectations. ‘They have been highly successful,’ he said. ‘The majority have been the French Périgord black truffle – as good as you can get.’ The Duke planted more than 300 £15 saplings impregnated with truffle spores in the Royal Fruit Farm where he cultivates apples, gooseberries and blackcurrants.
The idea was to grow truffles to be used in the Royal kitchens or sold at the farm shop with profits ploughed back into the estate.
Mr Cole said: ‘From what I gather, none have been sold. They have gone to the house or family.’
He added that he believed Sandringham was the first place to successfully harvest black truffles in the UK, but was unable to comment on the size of the crop.
‘You will never get that information out of a truffle plantation owner. They are very secretive about it,’ he said.