Truffles are found in different regions, but the elite often seeks out the white truffle variants. A sprinkle of this delight can transform your dish altogether.
The white truffle, or “Trifola d’Alba Madonna” (Truffle of the White Mother), is extremely expensive. A pound of this gastronomic delicacy can sell as much as $3,600. This explains why white truffle farmers are so secretive.
The Infamous White Truffle
Truffles can be considered a status symbol – a mere shaving of this almost aphrodisiac ingredient can cost hundreds of dollars. Now, imagine what you’d have to pay for the rare kinds like; the black diamond and the ever-elusive white truffle?
Truffles, in general, are classified as fungi. They give off a deep musky aroma and add a slight garlicky and rich smokey flavor to any dish it is paired with. But what makes it unique is that the flavor comes from its aroma.
Presently, we were aware of an odor gradually coming towards us, something musky, fiery, savoury, mysterious, — a hot drowsy smell, that lulls the senses, and yet enflames them — the truffles were coming.William Makepeace Thackeray, Memorials of Gormandizing, 1841
White truffles command a high price because they can turn any simple dish into a gourmet experience. But the actual reason why white truffles are expensive is that they are very rare. (Source: USA Today)
How To Find White Truffles
White truffles are only ready for harvest between September to December in the Piedmont region of North Italy. As mentioned earlier, truffles are fungi – and they specifically grow underground, usually around the roots of trees. So you won’t know you’re standing on a truffle field if you were.
These specific truffles can only be hunted, not harvested, using an age-old technique. Professional hunters train hunting dogs to sniff out this unique delicacy. Dogs are trained since puppyhood to detect the white truffle’s unique scent. In the past, pigs were used for harvesting white truffles. Dogs only replaced pigs because they tend to eat them! Another reason hunters preferred dogs over pigs is that if you are seen with a pig in your car, people will instantly know you are a truffle hunter. (Source: CBS News)
The Secrecy in the Industry
The industry built around the white truffle has become elusive and often described as borderline shady. Yet, a small patch of land where these glorious fungi grow can give someone a means of living for a lifetime. The main reason why truffle farmers are very secretive about their business is because of this. Farmers often set out in the dead of night, along with their trusty hounds, to gather their harvest. And often, it is only the farmer and the dog who know where their farming grounds are. They don’t even disclose this information to their families.
Competition is fierce in this industry, as there is only a tiny window to gather and sell white truffles. Since the supply is usually low, and the demand for it is exceptionally high. It has become normal for hunting dogs to be poisoned or dognapped. Unfortunately, these are some of the tactics farmers resort to protect their truffle field. There have also been reports of using spiked traps around the truffle fields. If you are lucky, a fellow hunter would tell you the general direction of where white truffles grow more. But that’s about the most information you would get. And expect to encounter several hurdles along the way – from guarded areas to common thieves and aggressive robbers. If you are lucky, the next hurdle is how actually to find them!
Secrecy is the primary tool of a truffle farmer. You are the master of your land, and you will be able to protect your profit for an entire lifetime! (Source: The Atlantic)