Sheffield graduate cultivates Britain’s first ever truffle

THE FIRST ever cultivated British truffle has been harvested by a South Yorkshire graduate.

The discovery of the truffle signifies the start of the UK truffle industry, and a “huge step forward” for British science, according to Dr Paul Thomas, who spent six years cultivating the truffle.

Dr Thomas, who graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2004 with a PhD in Plant Science, began cultivating truffles through his company Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd (MSL) ten years ago.

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He made the discovery in one of his UK plantations in Leicestershire that he runs in partnership with landowners and farmers.

Considered a culinary delicacy, English truffles are currently harvested from the wild but have declined rapidly. They sell for around £400 per kilogramme.

Dr Thomas said: “I was walking to the first tree to take my annual root sample but when I pulled the grass aside, I found a large and very rare prize. I was in complete shock. I jumped backwards, dropped my tools and ran back to the farmhouse. It was an incredible moment and myself and the farmers we were all jumping around and it felt so surreal.”

Truffles are a type of fungi that grow on the root system of living trees. Cultivation requires a sterile environment where the fungus is introduced to grow on the root system and nurtured for a year, before planting the trees into carefully prepared field sites. Plantations have to be carefully monitored and managed to ensure success.

Dr Thomas, who has the largest network of truffle sites world-wide, regularly presents at international academic conferences and publishes papers on all aspects of truffle biology.

He plans to expand his businesses to “help raise the prominence and reputation of the British truffle industry to the level it deserves,” and is currently seeking more partners.

One hectare of land has the potential to yield between £16,000 and £60,000 of truffles.

He added: “This is an incredible moment for British technology and the initiation of a Great British truffle industry.”