"It's the equivalent of grating a gold ingot over your plate of tagliatelle," was the verdict of one Italian commentator. He was explaining how the worst season for white truffles in Italy since 2003 – which was fiercely hot and dry from spring to autumn – has resulted in incredible prices for tuber magnatum pico, the so-called "white gold" of the forest.
In Milan, it is changing hands for more than ¿10 (£7) per gram. With prices like that, the export market is in deep trouble. "Production is going down vertically," said Andrea Rossano the head of Tartufingros, a company based near Cuneo in the far north-west of Italy which sends truffles all over the world. "The situation is dramatic and the prices are sky-rocketing."
The shortage of the product is comparable to that of 2003 but the reaction of the market is very different. In 2003, prices held stable at around ¿350 per 100g. But since then there has been an explosion of demand around the world, as the fame and snob value of the truffle spreads to previously unexplored territory. Increasingly this year the white variety is beyond the reach of all but the seriously wealthy. In Italy's trattorias, truffle fanciers regretfully order the coarser, more pungent black variety.
Some truffle trackers have already written off 2007 as a dead loss. "I'm worried," Salvatore Cucchiara, president of an association of truffle hunters, said.