Why Truffles Are So Expensive

Oct 01, 2018

Why truffles are so expensive


“The crown jewel of French gastronomy.” “A precious delicacy”

Did you guess what are we talking about? Yes, it is TRUFFLE.

What exactly is it? It is a type of fungus which grows underground. It grows around and in the roots of trees like beech, poplar, oak, etc. The trees give the fungus sugar made from sunlight, the fungus gives the trees minerals and nutrients it gets out of the soil. Such kind of symbiosis. Truffle is a tuber which grows on fungus in order to reproduce.

You can say, ok, it is just a mushroom, why it is so expensive?

Well, there several reasons.

First of all, It requires a great deal of endurance and effort to farm truffle, thus they cost a lot of money. They(truffles)only like very specific kinds of soil and tree. You can not just take seeds and plant them. Fungus lives INSIDE tree roots. Thus you should take a small tree from the area where there are truffles and plant it in a new place with the right kind of soil. If everything is successful, in 10-20 years you might start getting truffle tubers there.

In 19th and 20th centuries truffles were common and almost everyone in France could afford them. It was due to successfully applied method mentioned above. However, World War II damaged the French countryside so much that many of the truffle forests were lost. The amount of truffle has lessened since then. And what is rare costs more.

Nowadays farmers have started planting truffle forests again - in France, Australia, the US, Chile, and New Zealand. So may be in some years the price of truffle should go down over time as more truffle forests start producing tubers. We hope that someday we’ll be back to the Truffles For Everyone prices of the early 1900s.

Secondly, truffles are seasonal and extremely rare.

Thus just a couple of shavings of black truffles from France - known as black diamonds - can cost hundreds of dollars in a restaurant in Paris. White truffles from Italy can cost more than three times as much The black truffle is more affordable cause it is available for six to nine months a year. Also it is easier to store, it can be even frozen. And it could be kept longer then white one.

White truffle is considered to be an “Earth’s gold”. It can cost $3,000 per pound. Their season is short – only three or four months. White truffles cannot be frozen and have a short shelf-life, up to about 10 days. European white truffles can sell for as much as $3,600 a pound, making them and their fellow fungi the most expensive food in the world. One two-pound truffle recently sold for more than $300,000.

Thirdly, as everything in our modern world, truffles are influenced by the weather conditions. Rainfall patterns are changing, temperature is increasing. And truffles are really sensitive to all this changes. For example some years ago Italy had large crop, a result of abundant rain. During that period wholesale prices dropped by 50 percent.

In France, the truffle is so deep respected or admired that in the village of Uzes, a special mass is held in its honor. Churchgoers not only put money in the collection plate, they also add truffles. There’s a reason for the special prayers: because of climate change, the harvests are down from an annual haul of 2,000 tons of truffles 100 years ago, to just 30 tons today Another reason of high price is an amount of workers involved in industry of truffles.

For finding tubers “hunters” take specially trained dogs and roam the hills. Dogs sniff out these lumpy mushrooms when they’re ripe. The director of “Urbani” (the company which owns 70% of truffle market) says, “A single truffle hunter with a dog can find a small amount—two ounces, three ounces, quarter of a pound—so we need a lot of people to make sure we are able to collect quantity we need.” All those workers (up to 18,000) should be paid.

When tuber is taken from the ground, some portion should be left to repopulate. But if the truffles are dug by poachers, they usually do not care about seeds and thus fungus disappear in that place. Another challenge is to diliver truffle to customer. They immediately begin losing water to evaporation as soon as they’re dug up. To combat that, no expense is spared to get the truffle where it’s going. “The truffle we deliver to the restaurants and distributors, less than 36 hours before were underground in Italy,” Giordano (the director of “Urbani”) says. And the cost to make that happen is included in price.

However the climate and criminals are not the biggest problem of trufflers. The most harmful issue is China!

For years, Chinese farmers used truffles as feed for their pigs. That was until a businessman supposedly said, “The hell with the pigs, let’s feed the French!” Even if the taste of a Chinese truffle leaves something to be desired.

The Chinese truffle is worthless. They have no taste or smell of good truffles. Prices of winter truffles is about $1,000 a pound. A pound of Chinese, maybe $20, $30. There are many people, bad people, who mix them. So maybe they put 30 percent of Chinese, 70 percent of real ones and sell them.

And also there is another threat. The spores of Chinese truffles infect other fungus. Thus they are changing and become worthless.