Tennessee Truffles and a Tennessee Corn and Truffle Flan

Tennessee Truffles and a Tennessee Corn and Truffle Flan

The Lagotto Romagnolo is the traditional truffle hunting dog that originated in Italy.  The dogs are a better option than the pigs (that were originally used to truffle hunt) since they will not eat the truffles as the pigs do.  During our visit, I was able to speak with Hilarie Gibbs-Sykes, who was one of the first breeders to bring the Lagotto Romagnolo to the U.S.

She told me that these dogs are raised from in vitro to sniff out truffles!  The pregnant bitches are fed truffles while they are carrying their litter and then truffle oil is placed on their teets while the pups nurse as well as adding it to their food.  Trainers also cover rags in truffle scent and bury them so that the dogs will dig to find the truffles.

Daisy has had a very good day hunting.

Tom prefers cats, so when it is time to go truffle hunting (several months during the Winter), he will borrow a dog from Hilarie. They tragically lost one dog recently and are in the process of bringing another over from Italy.   While we were visiting, Tom brought a dog in from Arkansas to hunt.  While not a Lagotto, Daisy was certainly productive.  Stuart Davis, Daisy’s handler, has trained Daisy to hunt for truffles the same way the Lagotto has been trained.  Isn’t she cute???

How long will Tom keep doing this?  My bet is as long as he can.  The weather this year was difficult for his truffière.  The temperatures were colder than normal, so it was hard to keep up with the demand for the truffles.  Tom said that over the last few months, he has also received between three to four new calls a day looking for truffles.  The demand is so far ahead of the supply.

We asked him about the popularity of growing truffles in North Carolina (his next door neighbor) and if that will come to fruition.  He said that right now there are very few successful truffle farmers that can produce what he is doing.  Tom joked that there may be more truffle dogs in North Carolina than commercial truffles, but he expected more orchards to produce commercial truffles in the future.

Although it took California forty years to be recognized to produce a wine comparable to that which comes out of France, this has not been the case with Tom’s truffles (as well as some other U.S. grown truffles).  His truffles have been hand-carried to France three times to “grudgingly favorable reviews”.  One of those times Peter Yuen of Chicago, took second place at the 2010 Baking Masters in Paris, France using these truffles in his brioche.

Peter Yuen’s Brioche with Truffles (photo courtesy of Vicki Blizzard)

The advantage to growing these truffles in the U.S. is that it is a local food and sustainable.  The product is fresher.  It can reach the chefs within a day or two of being harvested versus weeks if it’s shipped from Europe.

Tom also envisions creating a route at some point where he can personally travel and deliver his truffles to many of the regional chefs (he does that to a certain extent now, especially when he goes to Asheville).  He likes the idea of the chefs being able to see the truffles and smell them before they purchase them, as each truffle can have a unique characteristic.  He said that he loves empowering the chefs with this “u-pick” approach.

The truffle resembles mica when it’s shaved.

As Tom works on a business plan to significantly expand the number of truffle trees, I know that he will succeed.  As the truffle becomes a more popular and local ingredient, there will be a large demand for truffles in many levels of quality.

People come from all over the world to meet and speak with Tom about his truffle orchards and how he has achieved such great success.  In fact, there was a gentleman from Australia visiting with him just this past week.  Just as most chefs are willing to share their recipe with you, many of them will leave out that special ingredient that makes the real difference in the final dish.  My bet is that Tom is keeping that certain secret ingredient to his Périgord truffles to himself.

Tennessee Corn and Truffle Flan

We visited Tom in mid-December, but waited until now to order one of his Périgord Truffles to try for ourselves at home.  It has made it’s way into several dishes and it has been adding to the fragrance of our home every time we remove it from the refrigerator.

The characteristics have changed over the few days we have had the truffle.  It reminds us of a great bottle of wine in that it evolves with time.  The wine will smooth out and emit soft, pleasing aromas as it oxidizes.  The truffle evolved in the same way.  After we cut the truffle, the bouquet opened up and continued to change each time we have used it.  It has become more pleasing.  The aroma and the taste is musky, earthen, but yet somewhat sweet.  The truffle will evolve for almost one week before, like a bottle of wine, it declines.

We have been doing some testing and playing in the kitchen with this prized 1.4 ounce Périgord Truffle possession, so there will be lots more to come!

Here is a recipe that originally was created by Tom and his girlfriend, Vicki.  The adapted version made it’s way to The New York Times and eventually into the Blackberry Farm cookbook.


Tennessee Corn and Truffle Flan
Yield: 8 servings

Tennessee Corn and Truffle Flan

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Additional Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Adapted from Tom Michaels


  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs, beaten well
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups sour cream 
(I used Daisy low-fat sour cream)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 to 2 ounces finely shaved fresh black winter truffle


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside. If using frozen corn, make sure it is well-defrosted and drained.

2. Warm a nonstick skillet over high heat and toss corn in to dry and toast slightly. In a bowl, combine cooked corn with 7 tablespoons melted butter, the eggs, cayenne and sour cream. Using a few swift strokes, add dry ingredients. Stir in cheese and shaved truffle, reserving just enough truffle to garnish flan before serving.

3. Use remaining tablespoon butter to grease 8 6-ounce ramekins. Spoon mixture into ramekins, cover each with foil and place in a baking pan. Add boiling water to pan until it reaches halfway up ramekins. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest, covered, for 10 minutes before serving. Flan can be served, garnished with additional truffle slices, in ramekin or loosened and turned out on a plate.

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