First UK-farmed truffle harvested
The first truffle to have been cultivated on UK soil has been harvested from a field in Leicestershire, according to a plant biologist.
Dr Paul Thomas planted the fungus on 20 farms and estates around Britain six years ago.
He found the 39g specimen under a young holly-oak tree.
The entrepreneur, who appeared on the TV series Dragon's Den, said it was the "birth of the UK truffle industry".
After a decade of waiting, Dr Thomas believes that his other sites will also start producing truffles later this year.
"There are other sites that are almost certainly fruiting," he told BBC News.With wild English truffles currently selling for around £400 per kg, he hopes to turn a profit within a few years.
"I had dreamed about this moment for many years. We used to produce loads; there are records of Queen Victoria being presented with the biggest truffle of the season.
"Now we need more growing partners to help us raise the prominence and reputation of the British truffle industry," he said.
A truffle is the fruiting body of a type of fungus that grows on the root systems of living trees.
Wild ones were once fairly common in Britain, but the loss of most of the country's ancient woodland, compounded by modern farming methods, means truffles are now extremely rare.
They are most commonly found by dogs that are trained to pick up the strong scent. To cultivate them, a sterile environment is created before spores are introduced to the root system of a tree, such as an oak or a hazel.
The specimen Dr Thomas grew is known as the summer or burgundy truffle (Tuber aestivum syn. uncinatum).
It is native to the UK. Zak Frost, owner of Wiltshire Truffles, said: "This is great news. Everyone loves local food, and British truffles are of much higher quality than those from abroad of the same variety.
"There is such a high demand, we can't meet it."
He sells wild truffles found on the family farm at a secret location in Wiltshire.
Hundreds of kilos are harvested and sold to some of the top Michelin-starred restaurants in the country. However, he did not feel his business would be threatened.
"Ours are wild, so they will always command a premium. 'Cultivation' makes it sound very easy, but actually it's not like sowing a seed from a potato. You have to wait for around 10 years. It's complicated and the outcome isn't by any means certain."
The vast majority of truffles eaten in this country are imported from abroad, and most are cultivated.
They are desired for their unique "earthy" flavour and the smell they bring to food. So far, no-one has been able to cultivate the most valuable species in the world – the white truffle.
Sprouting only in small parts of Italy, France and Croatia, it can fetch up to £3,000 per kg.