Truffle hunters set to sniff out bumper crop

Gourmets in Italy and beyond are licking their lips in anticipation of a bumper crop this year of the most prized culinary delicacy of all, the white truffle.

The combination of mild weather and a bleak financial climate means the coming months will see lots of high-quality fungus at a – relatively – low price, say experts.

"We're just at the start of the season, and truffle is a strange product, but so far the climatic conditions have been textbook," said Giacomo Oddero, president of the National Centre for Truffle Studies in Alba, the centre of the truffle trade. "The first indications are excellent and suggest that we'll remember this year for a long time to come."

In particular, the relatively cool August, followed by Indian summer weather in September, have helped the white truffle or Magnatum pico to grow readily underground in the forests of the Piemonte region, the heart of white truffle territory, where the season runs from 15 September to 31 January.

The large crop and the economic downturn already appear to be depressing prices of the "white gold" of the forest. Mr Oddero told La Stampa newspaper that the price was currently languishing at "just" €200 (£170) per 100g, compared with the usual price of €400 per 100g. All of which is good news for truffle fanciers.

In previous years, most noticeably inclement, pre-recession 2007, the black year for the white truffle, prices rocketed to €750 per 100g, as overseas millionaires snaffled what little truffle there was, ostentatiously racking up four-figure bills in glitzy restaurants.

The record price paid for a white truffle was set in December 2007, when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid $330,000 (£210,000) for a specimen weighing 1.5kg. He followed it up the next year buying one for $200,000 (£128,000) that was slightly over one kilogramme and dug up in Molise, a region in Italy's south.

As organisers prepare for next month's 80th international white truffle trade fair in Alba, few people expect the return of such stratospheric prices. But business is still expected to be brisk, said Mr Oddero.

The truffles, which look like small, shrunken potatoes when they're dug out of the clayish, calcium-rich soil around oak, willow or poplar trees, are creamy-coloured inside. Attempts to grow them commercially have failed.

Despite its aromatic, highly pungent taste, the white truffle is also very delicate; this and its high cost ensures that it is used sparingly and served raw – usually shaved over steaming buttered pasta or salads. And in Britain, Gordon Ramsay has served white truffle and mushroom pizzas at one of his restaurants.

The fungi, which it used to be thought grew where lightning struck, are harvested by experienced gatherers known in Piemonte as trifolau.

For obvious reasons they keep quiet about the locations of their favourite truffle groves. Serious disputes over the ownership of lucrative patches of truffle territory are not uncommon, and stories of rivals poisoning each other's truffle-hunting dogs abound.

There are dozens of truffle species, at least eight of which grow in Italy. For people who can't afford the white variety, the more common but less flavourful black type is a common choice. This has also proved possible to farm and is better suited to cooking.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links