A Prodigy and a Delicacy

Brian Upchurch, right, had retired from the nursery business. But then his teenage son Davis, an ambitious entrepreneur, persuaded him to embrace alternative agriculture. Photo by Audrey Goforth

There are teens out there who’ve never heard of a truffle, much less have the desire to grow the fungal delicacy. They have something in common with Brian Upchurch, whose son, Davis, is not one of those teens. In fact, he talked his dad into starting a truffle business three years ago.

“[Davis] came to me at the tender age of 14 and said, ‘Dad, we need to grow truffles,’ and I said, ‘I didn’t know you could grow chocolate,’” Brian recalls.

Sure, it’s a joke — but the idea of growing truffles in rural Fletcher, in an area where corn or tomatoes are more appropriate crops, was kind of funny, too. Today, though, Carolina Truffières has several acres of truffles growing on land where Highland Creek Nursery once thrived. When Brian sold that business, he wanted to be done with agriculture.

That was until Davis, now a 17-year-old junior at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, sold him on the idea of growing truffles. As they wait for their first harvest in about two years, Carolina Truffières offers consultations to potential truffle farmers and sells seedlings for clients to start their own operations.

Why truffles?
Davis: I [was] searching for alternative agriculture methods that were suitable for the southeastern United States. After reading research article after research article, I decided we could cultivate them at our location, and so began the first phase of the business — planting our own orchard.

What was your reaction when your parents decided to do the truffle business you proposed?
Davis: There are no words to describe the excitement … I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test myself.

Aren’t truffles hard to grow in our climate?
Brian: It’s a Mediterranean crop, so we have to be cognizant of [Western North Carolina’s] greater-than-ideal precipitation. We have to have well-drained soil and we have to subsoil, plant high, and be aware of that issue when we pick host trees.

And they’re not unburied by pigs anymore …
Brian: Dogs are the primary method of harvesting truffles. They are trained to the scent, much like a cadaver dog or a drug- and bomb-sniffing dog. I have just begun work with Shiloh, our two-year-old Goldendoodle.

What’s the truffle market like these days?
Brian: There is zero competition in the United States. There are people who have them, but anything that is produced is immediately sold. We think the local chefs will probably consume most of what we can offer. If they don’t, there’s Atlanta, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, which are essentially overnight FedEx packages. We [can] FedEx them at 5 o’clock one day, at 10 o’clock the next morning they have them and they are on the dinner plate that night.

How do you like to eat them?
Davis: My favorite entrée would be a duck breast with black-truffle shavings, while my favorite dessert would be a dark-chocolate mousse with truffle shavings. The truffle is relatively versatile in food and tastes quite amazing in both dishes despite the contrast.

Carolina Truffières (carolinatruffieres.com) will exhibit at the Mother Earth News Fair on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, 29 at Western North Carolina Agricultural Center (1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher). For more information, see motherearthnewsfair.com.

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