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The future of truffle: what can we do to protect this prestigious ingredient

The Black Truffle is a prestigious ingredient. Hailing from the French/Italian border, the future of the wild truffle is questionable.

Words Catherine McMaster

What is it about the black truffle that excites and tantalises the taste buds? Why are we so enthralled by a delicacy that is in fact a form of fungal? Yet at approximately €1,000 per kilo, the black truffle is one of the most highly sought after mushrooms in the world. The greatest permutation – the Perigord – can be found in the foothills of France and in the Northwest Piedmont region in Italy.

The taste of the Perigord truffle is not dissimilar to the Italian white truffle (which are even rarer) but their perfume is less intense and musky and thus ensures their versatility in cooking. The truffle is irresistible in part because of their aroma, a powerful and intoxicating earthy and woodsy smell, which can elevate the simplest of dishes. A mere shaving of the Perigord can create an entirely new flavour and depth to a dish.

As a result, a harvest for the cultivated variety of the Perigord may increase. As our appetite for the Perigord ceases to wane, new measures will need to be implemented to ensure its survival.

James Feaver from the English Truffle Co. however expresses growing concerns for the future of the Perigord truffle. Global warming and by affect climate change has severely hindered the longevity of the wild truffle. He explains: “Last year was the worst year I have known in over 10 years of being involved in truffles.”

The future of the Perigord truffle relies in its cultivation. Truffles have always been a unique food source as they are difficult to grow and hard to find, but still they remain high in demand. Now, there’s a trend emerging within the truffle community for a cultivated variety. There are various places where cultivated Perigord truffle have been identified. The UK has three potential species. Further to this, there have been successful attempts to grow the Perigord in Australia, New Zealand, China, America and South Africa.

Of the three species from the UK, James Feaver said: “If you’d ask me three years ago if we would have Perigord truffles in this country I would have said no.” The demand for truffle is insatiable and cultivation could prove a viable way of sustaining the future of the Perigord. Dr Paul Thomas from Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd recently published a paper titled ‘Climate change predicted to seriously impact Mediterranean truffle production’. Dr Thomas concluded: “Our new study predicts that, under the most likely climate change scenario, European truffle production will decline between 78 and 100 per cent between 2071 and 2100. However, the decline may well occur in advance of this date.”

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