Harvesting truffles, elusive and unpredictable as they are, seems almost straightforward when compared with the chicanery and subterfuge that can accompany the distribution and sales with the truffle trade. At least perhaps in France (at the risk of annoying any French that could improbably be reading this!)
Here at Ganymede, our own story is somewhat banal. For the sake of comparison however, it goes something like this …..
Hunt in the truffiere every Sunday morning in unabashed broad daylight. While away remainder of the day weighing unwashed truffles; then washing, cleaning, drying truffles and weighing again.
During aforementioned process, record both unwashed and washed weights. Misplace notes. Carefully pack truffles. Express post or deliver next day, depending on where they’re bound.
Back in Sydney the following morning, buses may or may not be involved in the delivery process with not a heinous hoodie in sight. The Southern Tablelands and Sydney are no Detroit! Nor as it turns out, are they France! Note to self: spice things up.
Place of Origin
In France, Perigord is the region generally considered to offer the best truffles and of course they come with a premium price tag. That premium paves the way for potentially dodgy dealings – but how is one to know where the truffles come from? (did you read that in a French voice?) Can you actually trust your supplier? (and back to suspicious English). Well of course if you know them.
Inside knowledge – doesn’t that sound so much more informed and connected than my truth of trawling the internet and coming up with this info – has it that over fifty percent of the truffles are actually sourced from elsewhere. Whilst in one sense this could arguably be immaterial where the truffles are actually born there is, however, a great deal of concern as Chinese knockoffs have been discovered interspersed amongst the superior French ones. Like cuckoo chicks.
The Great Unwashed
Also back in France (unlike here in Australia) truffles are sold unwashed which I can personally attest will add quite a few grams in weight. Rumours abound of truffles miraculously somehow gaining weight after leaving their beds and arriving at the markets. Actually, quelle horreur, I can identify with that! Perhaps it’s not so inconceivable.
Of more angst to me are the stories of stolen prized truffle dogs and barbaric poisoning or traps. This is apparently even more commonplace than the raiding, marauding villagers and others of their despicable ilk. Newspaper ads displaying pictures of stolen dogs are not uncommon. There’s suspicion that some dogs are sold overseas or quietly to rival French hunters amidst mutterings of organized gangs.
Mayhem and Murder
Although less common, there have been murders and mayhem. An example. Long, long ago in ancient times (2010), Laurent Rimbaud, a truffle grower in Southern France, saw a man lurking around the truffle trees whilst patrolling his truffiere.
Perturbed by the intruder and fearing the man was armed, Rimbaud shot twice, hitting the trespasser in the thigh and head. Unfortunately for the lurking, neighbouring villager his wounds were mortal and he died shortly afterward. He had no gun.
Rimbaud was subsequently charged but there were mitigating circumstances; it turns out the man was known to police for thieving, had been in possession of a knife obviously for the purposes of digging out truffles and clearly, this was a crime of passion.
Around 250 fellow truffle growers and supporters immediately staged a march in support of the firey Rimbaud. Night time truffle heists had become so prevalent the truffle growers had lost all patience.
Illustrating just how dire the situation has become, extreme measures have been required to catch the thieves and French authorities have been driven to intermittently conducting ‘paramilitary’ patrols near truffieres, even setting up “roadblocks to search cars for stolen fungi.”
“Our truffle fields are like open-air safes [full of money] and when times are hard certain thieves help themselves,” Joel Barthélémy, deputy head of the Tricastin truffle growers’ union, told La Provence newspaper. “But I’ve told my fellow producers never to patrol their fields with a gun. The temptation is too high.”