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White Truffles

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So the owner of our favorite local Italian restaurant told us to stay away from white truffles this year. For the first time in a long time, he won't be buying saying that the price is way up (partly due to exchange rates) and the quality is way down. He has seen a few samples and said they were extremely lacking in aroma and flavor. He said his cost would have gone from $1800 per lb last year to $2800 per lb this year for an inferior product.

 

Anyone have any other input?

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the prices are ridiculous this year - about $3,200 per pound in NYC a couple of weeks ago. in early Oct. i hard the truffles were not impressive but early in the season they rarely are anyway. haven't heard about the quality since but it's it's a bad year for truffles it will be a good vintage for local wines

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THERE are never enough white truffles. Their rarity and their seductive, earthy aroma help drive epicures wild.

 

But as the white truffle season starts this year in northern Italy and Croatia, some people in the business say they have never seen such scarcity. They fear it may be a sign of what’s to come.

 

Last year at this time, said Paulo Lima, export manager of Appennino Funghi e Tartufi outside Bologna, his company was shipping 35 kilograms (77 pounds) of white truffles every week. This year he’s been unable to ship more than a kilogram (2.2 pounds) a week. He said wholesalers are paying $4,000 a pound in the United States, where the weak dollar makes imported delicacies even more expensive.

 

Joe Bastianich, a partner in Del Posto, Babbo and other New York restaurants, said large truffles, the size of baseball, are selling for as much as $6,000 a pound, if they can be found.

 

“Basically what it means is we won’t make any money on them, because I can’t charge more than $10 to $12 a gram,” he said.

 

A serving of truffle is often five or six grams.

 

One reason for the scarcity is the weather. Since early spring, little rain has fallen in the heart of truffle country in Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, the Marche and here in Tuscany. The summer was unusually hot, parching the earth.

 

“It’s not that we’re not finding truffles; we are,” Mr. Lima said. “But they’re as small as raisins. They’re around, but they didn’t grow.”

 

A lack of snow last winter had an even more damaging effect, said Rengenier Rittersma, a Dutch researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, and a leading truffle authority. Snow penetrates slowly into the subsoil, providing the humidity essential for truffle growth.

 

But the weather could not be wholly to blame, many feel. Dr. Rittersma says he thinks overharvesting is taking place, a reason for long-term concern.

 

“There are too many cavatori,” he said, using the Italian word for truffle hunter, “and they search for truffles all year long.”

 

After the white truffle season, which ends around Christmas, hunters, enticed by ever higher demand and prices, have been searching for black truffles and, later, for summer truffles.

 

While truffle hunters need to pass a test from the forestry service to get a license, the test involves mostly scientific information. New hunters, enticed by stories of buried treasure in the woods, go digging without being taught how to protect the terrain, knowledge that old-timers have.

 

“The terrain, then, is constantly being disturbed,” Dr. Rittersma said, “and the truffle mycelium” — the underlying structure that supports truffle growth — “has no time to rest, no recovery period. The truffle is a very fragile plant in a fragile environment, and once the environment is destroyed, it doesn’t return.”

 

In some areas, the truffles’ environment is being completely destroyed. Dr. Rittersma said that in northwest Piedmont, vineyards are replacing much of the woodland, because of the growing demand for Barolo and other wines.

 

“So all the different oaks and hazelnut trees, in whose root systems the truffles are hidden, have been cut down,” he said. “And vineyards have been planted even on north-facing slopes. It’s the funeral of the truffle.”

 

Alessandro Bonino, export manager of Tartufi Morra, one of Alba’s oldest and most respected firms, could not remember a worse harvest than this year’s. “But I’m still young,” said Mr. Bonino, who is 39. He recalled 2003, another year of high temperatures. “We had very few white truffles, but more than we have now,” he said.

 

One hope may lie in an area that truffle lovers, especially Italian ones, once laughed at: Croatia, whose truffles are now considered by many to be on par with Italy’s. Croatia’s harvest is not quite as bad as Italy’s.

 

“The climate is not that different,” said Mr. Lima, who recently visited there, “but they have truffles.”

 

And these days, no matter what the price, there are people who will pay.

 

“All of a sudden there’s Russia, Dubai, Vegas,” Mr. Bastianich said. “It’s pinching the global demand. Now everyone is rich, and everyone wants to eat truffles, and they don’t care what it costs.”

 

For Love of Truffles

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The price had held at around $5 to $6 a gram in restaurants the last few years, bringing a $40 entree to $70/$80 for a moderate shaving. Mr Bastianich certainly won't be able to sell me the same dish for over $100.

 

One day, not far off, caviar, truffles and foie gras will be a distant memory.

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in a way (in a very perverse way, granted), that's probably good news. I've found white truffles in restaurants in this country to be so hit or miss, mostly the latter, that it really isn't worth the gamble, even at traditional prices. a great white truffle is a powerful and wonderful thing, but a mediocre white truffle packs no more punch than chopped parsley. i had a pretty good white truffle at One of America's Greatest Restaurants last week, and I still found myself dreaming wistfully of Alba, and truffles so intense you can smell them a half-block away.

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If my math is right, that's getting on for $100 a gram. Please tell me I'm wrong.

 

When I first lived in Italy, it was about 1 euro a gram; which was tolerable. 50 euros gave you a treat for 4 people, much like a good bottle of wine.

 

 

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There were some truffle courses on offer at Insieme last week - I didn't consider them - but I just realized that our server did not tell us what the prices were when she told us about the courses.

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in a way (in a very perverse way, granted), that's probably good news. I've found white truffles in restaurants in this country to be so hit or miss, mostly the latter, that it really isn't worth the gamble, even at traditional prices. a great white truffle is a powerful and wonderful thing, but a mediocre white truffle packs no more punch than chopped parsley. i had a pretty good white truffle at One of America's Greatest Restaurants last week, and I still found myself dreaming wistfully of Alba, and truffles so intense you can smell them a half-block away.

 

If you ever go back to Alba let me know. A friend has a house there and another is a local chef who writes about wine for an Italian magazine. The wine writer/chef friend is also a local, he'll take you around and give you a really honest taste of the area. He'll take you on a truffle hunt if you want...

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I don't know how it's possible, but San Domenico is holding its white truffle price at $6 per gram again this year.

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