italy’s-white-truffle-hunters-worry-about-climate-change

Rising global temperatures are worrying truffle hunters around the Italian town of Alba, where the most prized specimens can fetch twice the price of gold.

This particularly warm October, eight out of 10 white truffles unearthed by Carlo Olivero with his trusty 3-year-old dog Steel were dark, withered and dried out.

“They are clearly signs of the temperatures,’’ Olivero said, holding one that he kept in his pocket. The rest he consigned to the soil, allowing the spores to spread and hopefully replenish future production.

In this photo taken on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, a close-up of white truffles collected during cool November weather, which yields some of the most fragrant of the highly prized Tuber magnatum Pico. (AP Photo/Martino Masotto)

Alba, located in the northwestern region of Piedmont, has earned the moniker “white truffle capital of the world” for its particularly fragrant variety of truffle, its truffle fair each fall and its annual charity auction, which pushes prices of the tuber magnatum pico up into the stratosphere.

A truffle weighing 1,005 grams (2 pounds, 3.4 ounces) fetched 120,000 euros ($133,000) — more than twice the price of gold — from a Hong Kong buyer at this year’s auction.

The longer-term impact of rising temperatures on the highly prized white truffles is still being studied, but they, like other fungi, grow best in cool, rainy conditions. Climate change has in effect delayed peak production from October into November.

“It has been a few years that we have been worrying about truffle production,” said Antonio Degiacomi, president of Italy’s national center for truffle studies. “We have had over the last three seasons one terrible year, one excellent season and one that is decent.”

In this photo taken on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, Carlo Olivero digs on the spot where his 3-year-old dog Steel indicated the aroma of a prized white truffle, in Alba, Italy. Olivero has been hunting truffles for more than 40 years, and worries about climate change and the transition of wooded land to vineyards and orchards will impoverish future truffle production. (AP Photo/Martino Masotto)

To stave off the longer-term climate change impact on the production of the highly prized white truffle, experts have launched initiatives to better preserve the territory where they grow. The goal is to safeguard the symbiosis between the truffle and the host plant by encouraging symbiosis between the truffle hunter and the land owner — whose interests often conflict.

This year’s charity auction white truffle price — 12,000 euros for 100 grams ($13,200 for 3.5 ounces) — compared with a high price at this year’s fair of about 380 euros per 100 grams ($400 for 3.5 ounces). The fair price can increase to as much as 750 euros ($850) per 100 grams in years of scarce production.

In this photo taken on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, a white truffle weighing 1,005 grams, which was sold to a bidder in Hong Kong for 130,000 euros, via video link from the castle in Grizane Cavour, where prized white truffles are auctioned off for charity each year, often to undisclosed bidders. (AP Photo/Colleen Barry)

After an unusually hot and long summer, this November’s damp, foggy weather has proved perfect for truffle hunting around Alba.

“In these days, the quality is especially high,’’ said truffle judge Stefano Cometti. “The low temperatures augment the organic characteristics of the truffle and force it to retain the aroma.”

That included a 730-gram (1 pound, 9.75 ounce) white truffle unearthed by Davide Curzietti on Saturday, the largest of the annual truffle fair to date. Judges certified the provenance of the behemoth tuber, which Curzietti sold immediately to a restaurant in Osaka for 3,800 euros ($4,200).

In this photo taken on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, a waitress grates a white truffle onto a warm dish of potato gnocchi with a cheese sauce at a restaurant in Grinzane Cavour, Italy, near a castle that is the site of an annual white truffle auction. White truffles are highly prized for their rarity and unique aroma, and are best eaten raw atop warm dishes, like poached eggs, risotto or egg noodles. (AP Photo/Colleen Barry)

Even after more than four decades on the truffle hunt, Olivero still gets emotional when Steel stops his energetic sniffing of the damp ground.

Steel’s nose is faultless. Through a carpet of wet autumn leaves and muddy earth, the dog picks up the sweet, distinctive aroma of a white truffle and signals his find by rapidly digging on the surface.

“I call it the magic moment, because it means that there is something under there that we were looking for. We still don’t know the dimensions, how big it will be, but the heartbeat speeds up because in that moment, we know there is something,’’ Olivero said.

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