SCOTLAND could become the new breeding ground for one of the world’s most expensive delicacies: truffles.
An expert on the fungus is setting up a genetics lab on the tiny island of Bute, in the Firth of Clyde where he moved with his family six months ago, and plans to grow truffle trees there.
I think we’ll get high prices as they’re so hard to findDr Paul Thomas
Dr Paul Thomas, 34, already has two farms near Dumfries and Edinburgh, with the one close to the capital possibly providing its first truffle crop later in the year.
Dr Thomas said that the country’s climate is ideal for growing truffles and that the Scottish version could sell for a higher price than its English counterpart – currently £400 per kilo – as there are so few available.
He made headlines earlier this year when he harvested the first truffle cultivated on UK soil, rather than one found growing wild, in Leicestershire.
It was from one of 20 land areas in Britain where he planted the fungus over the past six years.
Dr Thomas said: “Most of Scotland is really good territory for truffles because, despite what is often portrayed, the country has a really mild climate.
“We moved to Bute from Yorkshire as my parents and my wife Anna’s folks live here and, with a third child on the way, we wanted to be close to them.
“I’ll do all the scientific work here and we’ll have our genetics lab in place next month.
“We’re also preparing the ground and planting is just beginning.
“Sniffer dogs are being trained and we may even find truffles in Edinburgh this year.
“There are very few Scottish truffles just now, so I think we’ll get pretty high prices because they’re so hard to find.”
Paul admitted he was a “geeky kid” who liked going out and picking wild mushrooms.
That led to a natural environment degree and a PhD in plant science at the University of Sheffield, which provided him with funding to get his business, MSL Truffles, off the ground.
University bosses also got him onto the first series of Dragons’ Den, where he was given two hours with the panel and received essential business advice.
As well as the UK, Dr Thomas has truffles sites around the world. He said: “Last week we learned we have a crop in Macedonia, our first one there.”
He grows trees from seed in glasshouses in Lancashire and then introduces the truffle fungus, which grows on the roots.
“It’s a slow project,” he said. “You have to be patient.”