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Local couple brings their Italian honeymoon home by starting the area's first truffle farm

Oak and Hazel Farm hopes to yield a dual crop of hazelnuts and truffles once its trees mature
20181128 Kathleen Galias and Patrick Hazen KA
Patrick Hazen and Kathleen Galias, the owners of Oak and Hazel Farm near Guelph, have planted hazelnut and oak trees on five acres of farmland. They hope to see truffles — which grow in the root system — within the next few years. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

A Guelph couple who fell in love with truffles on their honeymoon in Italy is now part of a pilot program hoping to grow the delicacy in Ontario.

Patrick Hazen and Kathleen Galias purchased a farm just outside of Guelph almost five years ago. Hazen is a landscaper and Galias owns a pharmacy in Guelph, but the couple were looking for a crop to grow on five acres of their property.

They first considered growing hops, which is a key ingredient in beer making, but they were told five acres would not yield enough of a crop to make it worthwhile.

The idea of growing truffles came up after a discussion with one of Hazen’s clients, who told him about a pilot program that seeks to begin growing them in Ontario.

Truffles are a kind of fungus that grow in the root systems of trees and can be found in the wild in Ontario, but have not been farmed in the province until recently.

The couple first became familiar with truffles because of their honeymoon in Italy.

“Out there truffles are really big and we got to loving them,” said Hazen. “When we found out we could be part of a program to bring them to Ontario, we jumped on board and never looked back,” said Hazen.

Galias recalled eating at restaurants in Umbria, Italy during their honeymoon.

“Everything had truffles, it was so delicious,” said Galias. “That experience was beautiful.”

“When we heard truffles can grow here and we knew the value of truffles, so we researched more,” she said.

The couple received a $30,000 in matching seed funding from Innovation Guelph to start the project.

Innovation Guelph is also providing mentorship for the project.

“We know what we want and we know it’s a good product, but they have helped us to be more focused on how to market and be more successful,” said Galias.

Oak and Hazel Farm is one of 115 companies funded by Innovation Guelph’s Fuel Injection Seed Funding program since 2015.

In the spring, Hazen used an auger to create holes for 650 trees on five acres of his property and the roots were inoculated with truffle spores.

Oak and Hazel Farm is now home to 500 hazelnut trees and 150 oak trees, which are in the same family.

The couple hopes to get a dual crop of hazelnuts and truffles as the trees mature. Hazen said the truffles could be ready to harvest in two years.

Even if the truffles don’t take, Hazen said they will still have a hazelnut crop and naturalized five acres of their property.

The couple hopes to make the truffles available to the local market and to restaurateurs in the area. If the project is successful, truffles will no longer have to be imported and the carbon footprint of bringing them to Guelph will be greatly reduced. 

“You won’t have to go to Italy to have the experience we had,” said Galias.

Before they harvest, the couple will have to have a dog or a pig specially trained to sniff out the truffles.

Hazen said he would like to train both to find which one does a better job finding the truffles, but Galias  said there is one problem with using pigs.

“They try to eat the truffles,” she said.

Bringing truffle farming to the Guelph area is an innovative idea that may lead to a change in the local food landscape, said Mickey Campeau, program manager for start ups and seed funding at Innovation Guelph.

“There is so much more food innovation that can come from that,” said Campeau.

“They talk a lot about planting trees and having an orchard,” said Campeau. “But I think hiring new employees and growing this business and growing the economy locally is something that was a goal of theirs as well.”