Why Is Italian White Truffle Expensive?
Why Alba Truffles Are More Expensive Than Gold
White Italian Truffles are thought to be the best truffles on the planet and their price is reflective of their status. Ounce-for-ounce, this delicacy is more expensive than even gold. What is it about this savory specimen that makes it so expensive though? Let’s look at the various factors that have led to consumers' willingness to pay obscene amounts for this exceptional tuber.
White Truffles Are Seasonal
Truffles are a fungus, and like most fungi found on this planet, they are very finicky about when and where they will fruit. Italian white truffles have an ideal climate that is high in precipitation and mild in temperature, with summers averaging around 60-80 degrees between highs and lows and winters rarely dropping below freezing. The alba white truffle will not thrive without such conditions—too hot and they will shrivel up and dry out; too cold and they will remain dormant or die off altogether. Still, they do rely on the seasonal transitions in temperature to spawn new growth each year. Because of this, they are only ready for harvest once a year, typically between the months of October through December.
This seasonality leads to a high demand when they are ready to be wild harvested, which drives the prices up and further propels culinary global excitement (which in turn, further drives up prices). In and around Alba, Italy, there is even a multi-month festival that coincides with the prime harvesting season. Alba International White Truffle Fair brings in chefs and culinary enthusiasts from around the world, many of whom are trying to get their hands on spectacular truffle specimens. As you can imagine, those who are willing to travel across oceans for a single ingredient are also willing to pay top dollar to obtain it.
White Truffles Only Grow Wild
While several species of truffles have been domesticated for cultivation, the white truffle has not. They only grow wild when the conditions are optimal and a preferred host tree is nearby. Truffles and several species of deciduous hardwoods enter into a symbiosis, exchanging nutrients and energy for growth and survival. Because they cannot be cultivated, the high risk needs to be balanced by the potential reward for those who go out in search of this coveted mushroom.
Truffles Can’t Be Spotted With The Naked Eye
While a truffle will occasionally break the surface of the ground, it is extremely rare for it to do so. Unlike most varieties of mushrooms, their fruiting body remains covered by soil. They can be found at the base of trees, especially oaks, hazelnuts, and willows. Because they are underground, however, one cannot find them simply by keeping their eyes pointed to the forest floor. Instead, truffle hunters will commonly turn to the assistance of species with much stronger noses than our own.
Nowadays, dogs are primarily trained for this task, but in the past, female pigs were primarily used for sniffing out truffles. Why only the females? Well, pigs are not necessarily “trained” to find truffles but are drawn to them because the truffles emit a scent similar to a sex hormone found in the salivary glands of male pigs. The problem with using pigs is that as soon as they uncover a truffle, they will begin to eat it. Can you blame them?
Even with dogs and pigs sniffing out white truffles, there is no “sure thing” and it is very much a “hunt” that may conclude with nothing to show for it. This being the case, truffle hunters need to account for the time spent searching and coming up empty handed with the price they put on truffles found on the more successful days.