The tuber melanosporum, a.k.a the Périgord truffle, a.k.a the “black diamond” truffle, might be the most coveted fungus breed on the planet. So when one of France’s most revered Périgord truffle markets, Sainte Alvère closed its doors after 10 minutes of vending due to a dearth of product, a collective gasp echoed throughout the Aquitaine region, a major artery in France's truffle industry. There weren’t enough black diamonds to go around.
According to chef-turned-truffle pro Frank Brunacci of the Florida-based Subdus Group, true Périgord truffles — the variety grown in southwestern France's Dordogne départment (a county once referred to as the Périgord) — are "the most extravagant, sweetest, darkest, most beautiful truffles that you'll ever see, taste, try in your lifetime." Melanosporum truffles — Périgords grown in other regions and countries like Spain or Australia — aren't, as Brunacci puts it, "as delicate." In other words, a truffle of its own provenance simply tastes better. "It's something to do with their terroir."
Only 29 pounds (13 kg) of those Périgords were sold yesterday — as opposed to the 44 pounds (20 kg) sold this time last year — according to a report by Le Figaro newspaper. Why so few? Sainte Alvère’s comptroller general Patrick Maxime told the newspaper that the shortage was due to a 14-week drought, a first of its kind in the Périgord region. Of course, supply vs. demand necessitated a price inflation: more than $1,400 per pound, up 15 percent since 2012 when prices hovered around $1,200 a pound. For purveyors, this could be a cause for alarm.
Brunacci isn’t too worried because it’s still early in the season. “Yes, it’s going to be a season with less yield, but it's still November. Normally the season starts from the 6th of December through early March.” Besides, most truffles are cultivated through irrigation systems, so the shortage can’t be attributed only to a lack of rain.
In fact, truffle shortages could be ascribed to any number of reasons. “Truffles don’t mature until it gets cold, so if the late autumn is happening, then the bugs don’t die.” When the bugs don’t die, they eat. In his interview with Le Figaro, Maxime even said that many of the truffles were immature or damaged, and the shortage very well might be related to climate conditions. “Too hot when it should be cold, too wet when it should be dry. The trees could even be too old,” explained Brunacci. “Everyone scratches their head in the truffle industry.”
So what does this mean for restaurants around the world? Brunacci told Eater, “The same top chefs who rely on truffles will always manage to get them [at competitive rates] because they are the foundation to our business. The buyers will always buy and the sellers will always supply to their best buyers.” Longstanding markets like Ste. Alvère might not have it so easy.
But if climate plays such a heavy role in the industry, the U.S., with its new climate change-denying president-elect, could push the truffle industry toward an even gloomier path.