Meet the Virginia Truffle Farmers Bringing the Luxe Ingredient to Local Restaurants

Périgord truffles from Virginia? Yes, really.

Périgord truffles from Virginia are now appearing on restaurant menus, thanks to farmer Olivia Taylor, who finds the surprise delicacies with the help of three dogs. Photograph by Megan Bannon.

Outside bucolic Rixeyville, Virginia, just north of Culpeper, lies a woodsy 26-acre farm with a precious secret: an underground trove of Périgord black truffles, the same species beloved by chefs around the world for their umami-­rich flavor.

When most people think of the prized fungi, they usually think of France and Italy. “People are definitely surprised,” says Oliv­ia Taylor, 45, who owns Virginia Truffles with her parents, Pat Martin, 69, and John Martin, 79. “They say, ‘I had no idea that you could do this here.’ ”

The idea for their unexpected pursuit was planted in 2003, when Pat and John were contemplating life after retirement. They wanted a venture they could handle themselves but that also allowed them to travel to the places they loved, including France, Italy, and Australia. When they stumbled onto an article about an Australian farmer successfully growing Périgord truffles, they traveled there to get a firsthand look and eventually learned to farm them. Olivia, who has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy—and wrote her thesis on truffles—embarked on further training in Spain and Australia.

Périgord truffle. Photograph by Megan Bannon.

Farmers don’t sow truffle seeds; they plant trees inoculated with the fungi. It’s an exercise in patience. The family’s first trees went into the ground in 2008. A full decade later, they got their debut harvest: two truffles weighing a total of a quarter pound. This past season, which ran from late November into March, was their best yet: seven pounds, retailing for $60 to $80 an ounce.

Taylor describes the rich, earthy truffles as sometimes fruity, with hints of unsweetened chocolate and whiskey. To find them, the farmers rely on a trio of dogs, all adoptees painstakingly trained to home in on truffles’ unique scent. Chief canine is Nadine, a ten-year-old Redbone hound, while truffler-in-training is Harley, a Lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian breed traditionally used by foragers.

The farm’s nuggets of “black gold” are gaining a cult following in Virginia’s high-end culinary circles. They’ve been featured on the tasting menu at Three Blacksmiths in Sperryville and at the Marshall locavore destination Field & Main. One season, the kitchen crew from the triple-Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington came for a hunt.

You don’t have to be a chef to take part in such an expedition, which includes a tutorial on how to prepare them. And though you’re not allowed to keep anything you find, you can buy it. So when you serve them at a dinner party you can say, “You’ll never guess where these truffles are from . . . .”

Virginia Truffles, 11047 Settletown Pl., Rixeyville, Va.

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.