Truffles – the luxury France is dying for

The spiralling price of seasonal delicacies has generated a "luxury" crime wave in France this Christmas – and now one violent death.

An ill-tempered war in the South of France over the theft of truffles has claimed its first victim. A young truffle-producer in the Rhône valley has been arrested on possible murder charges after shooting dead a man whom he suspected of raiding his "truffle groves" in the middle of the night.

At the same time, oyster beds on the French Atlantic coast are being protected by infrared cameras, helicopters and mounted policemen as a steep rise in prices has brought a surge in thefts. Professional oyster rustlers can steal up to three tons in a single night.

Near the village of Grignan in Drôme, in the Rhône valley, Laurent Rambaud, 32, a local farm union official, and truffle producer, shot an intruder in the leg and in the head on Monday night. More than 200 local people marched in the rain the following day to support Mr Rambaud and call for his release.

Thefts of truffles have become increasingly common in recent years as shortages have driven the wholesale prices of the much-prized underground mushrooms to between €800 (£680) and €1,000 a kilo.

Wild truffles have almost disappeared in France. Almost all the harvest of the black French truffle, or tuber melanosporum, comes from plantations cultivated by farmers and wine producers.

The shortage, and high price, of truffles has generated a wave of truffle-related crime: raids on truffle plantations; the armed theft of cash from truffle traders; the theft of "truffle trees"; and even the rustling of champion truffle-sniffing dogs.

The victim in the shooting at Grignan has been identified as a 43-year-old man from the next commune, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, who had previous convictions for theft. Mr Rambaud told investigators that he stumbled on the man in the dark, thought that he was armed and shot him in self-defence. The victim was carrying only a truffle-digging trowel.

Mr Rambaud, who faces possible charges of murder, is part of a well-known local farming family. He is president of the local branch of the Jeunes Agriculteurs ("young farmers") and a volunteer fireman.

Jean-Charles Savignac, president of the French federation of truffle producers, told The Independent yesterday: "This is the first time that anyone has been killed but there have been scores of other incidents when there have been scuffles or shots fired in the air. Maybe now, the authorities will start to take this problem more seriously."

Legitimate producers use dogs to sniff out the mature truffles, he said. Raiders tend to dig up a whole plantation, ruining the ground for years to come.

"That explains why there is such anger out there," Mr Savignac said. "Police and magistrates still seem to think that truffles are wild, like mushrooms, and that truffle-stealing is relatively harmless. They don't understand the heartache that truffle-stealing causes." Some truffle producers claim that one in three of all the truffles sold in France is stolen.

Oyster prices are also spiralling in France this winter. A herpes virus known as OsHV-1 has been killing off baby oysters, or spats, around the French coastline for three years, causing a shortage of mature oysters this Christmas. Production is down between 40 and 50 per cent. Shop prices are up by 15 to 30 per cent.

As a result, oysters are a tempting target for thieves. Oyster producers, already threatened with ruin, are economically vulnerable to thefts. And some unscrupulous producers are suspected of helping themselves to their neighbours' shellfish.

Last year, 18 tons of oysters were surreptitiously harvested from the Bassin d'Arcachon, on the Bay of Biscay coast. This year so far, only 3.3 tons have officially been declared stolen, but oyster producers say that the real figure is much higher.

Jérôme Delarue, who farms oysters in the Bassin d'Arcachon, says the culprits are other local producers. "We all know who does it, and they're free to start doing it again," he said. "What we need is big examples. We all know who the culprits are, but we're all neighbours. We just have to smile at each other and say nothing."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick