Truffle hunting provides Culpeper with unique experience

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Due to their excellent sense of smell, dogs are preferred over pigs to find truffles. (Courtesy InsideNova)

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There are only around 10 producing truffle farms in the United States, and one of them is in Culpeper County.

Virginia Truffles LLC is an appointment-only truffle farm located in Rixeyville run by Pat and John Martin, who operate it with their daughters Olivia Taylor and Vanessa Shea. At this small family-run business, Black Perigord Truffles (Tuber Melanosporum), the second most valuable variety of truffle next to the Alba Truffle, are cultivated and harvested, providing a fresh supply of truffles to a limited number of local white tablecloth restaurants.

The farm also hosts truffle cultivation workshops and truffle hunts.

The farm, Pat Martin said, was based on a long-term vision.

“Twenty years ago, my husband and I did a lot of vacationing in Australia, where the truffle industry was really taking off,” she said. “Long story short, when we came back to the States, we decided to start truffle farming.”

“Not only is it an interesting thing to do, but it’s also an intellectually challenging pastime —  perfect for retirement.”

To prepare, the Martins took truffle farming courses in France, Italy, Spain and Australia. Then, they bought the 6-acre farm in Rixeyville in 2007 and planted their first trees in 2008. It takes years to produce truffles after planting spore-infused oak saplings. Finally, in 2018, they harvested their first Black Perigord Truffles.

“It’s so exciting to know this can be done,” Martin said. You need to learn the land and persist. Persistence is a big part of it.

“It takes a lot of time, hoping, and praying. The harvest is small in the beginning too, but ramps up with each season.”

While truffle hunting is an outdoor activity, the harvest happens in winter. Guests who sign up for a truffle hunt will join the Martins’ daughter Olivia and her hunting dog out on the property.

“Everyone uses dogs now. Even in Italy, France, and Spain where truffles have been harvested for generations,” Martin said.

When guests arrive at a scheduled truffle hunt, they can expect to spend plenty of time outside and let the dog lead the way. During the hunt, Olivia teaches guests about the techniques of hunting with a partner dog, digging and assessing ripeness. Then, when the dog finds a truffle, guests can dig it up beneath the Oak trees.

“It’s like uncovering treasure, and it never gets old to see how excited the dogs get. It’s so much fun,” Martin said. “You never know how many you’re going to find, but you’re always going to find something. Everyone always has a good time. People love the dogs and watching them hunt.”

To ensure that the land remains pristine for harvesting, traffic is limited on the property. All guests must buy a ticket and must sign up for a specific time slot when an expert hunt guide can accompany them.

After finding truffles, guests can purchase them if they like. The farm’s store also carries a few other products like books, cooking utensils and apparel, which are also available online.

While truffles are known for being available in the wild, it’s been getting more difficult to forage them. This makes truffle cultivation on farms important to keep the harvest going for generations to come.

Truffle hunt tickets are available online at on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, follow Virginia Truffles on Facebook and subscribe to their newsletter. You may also email

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