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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam