Brief - The Hustle

When the going gets tough, the truffles quit growing…

Written by Conor Grant | Jun 30, 2020 10:50:25 AM

And that issue is quickly mushrooming into a big problem for purveyors of the world’s fanciest fungus. 

The white truffle trade is a lucrative business. High quality white truffles are often worth twice their weight in gold… and a single white truffle recently sold for $133k at an auction in Italy. 

But sellers of these select ’shrooms have found that warming weather has made it harder to harvest their famed funghi. Now funghi fanatics are resorting to desperate measures to find solutions to their truffle kerfuffle.

So, what’s the deal with the truffle trade?

White truffles are so expensive because — unlike their slightly less expensive dark-colored cousins, which can be cultivated — they can only be foraged from the wild. 

And, to make matters even more challenging, white truffles only grow in the wild in very specific conditions.

White truffles grow almost exclusively among the roots of particular hardwood trees in one region of Italy, and they’re harvested between October and December by truffle-sniffing pigs (or dogs). 

And now, warm weather is ruining the truffle harvest

White truffles grow best in cool, moist conditions. But over the past few seasons, the weather in Italy has grown warmer… and the number of truffles unearthed each season by dogs and pigs has dwindled — making prices for the fungus even more humongous. 

According to a recent CNBC report, some of this year’s truffle harvest in Alba, Italy — the “white truffle capital of the world” — was “withered and dried out” due to warm weather.

White truffle prices, which were consistent at roughly $2.6k per pound between April and October, spiked to more than $4.4k this month.

Now truffle traders are desperate to protect their fancy funghi…

And in some cases these funghi fanatics are getting out of control. 

On the legitimate end of the spectrum, “truffle associations” work with landowners to preserve the truffles’ precious habitat. 

These groups pay landowners to preserve trees whose roots can grow truffles, and sometimes even strike deals to clear land for better truffle chances.

But, on the other hand, funghi fears have also led to crime. The highly secretive truffle trade is well-known for tax evasion… and worse. 

In 2014, The Atlantic reported that funghi feuds sometimes led mushroom maniacs to kill their competitors’ truffle-sniffing dogs with poisoned meatballs or hidden traps. 

Truffle bandits have also snuck onto private property to steal ’shrooms by the cover of night — and even robbed legitimate truffle hunters by impersonating police officers. In international markets, regulators have also found fungus fraud to be a problem.

So take good care, fellow fungus fans — it’s up to all of us to protect the fungus among us.