The Perilous Perigord Truffle Phenomenon in 2016

French Village in the Dordogne

The Perilous Perigord Truffle Phenomenon in 2016

When Ganymede’s truffle season ended with a disconcerting whimper after a bangingly encouraging start, the recent abrupt and early closure of one of France’s best known Perigord truffle markets had me trawling the internet to discover why.

The tiny medieval town of Sainte-Alvere is situated in the Dordogne in the Aquitaine region, a major hub in France’s truffle industry and its famed market celebrates the beginning of France’s renowned Perigord truffle season. This year the Sainte-Alvere market closed its doors after 10 measly minutes. The reason? Lack of supply.
black perigord truffle in a basket

According to a report by Le Figaro, just under 13 kilos were sold on 30 November 2016 as opposed to the 20 kilos sold this time last year.

An article in Eater reported that the supply vs. demand imbalance resulted in a price surge, an uber moment if you will, where prices reached more than A$4000 per kilo compared to 2012 when prices peaked around A$3500 a kilo.

It’s difficult not to draw parallels. Here at Ganymede in NSW’s Southern Tablelands, we experienced an unseasonably late start to our winter. Added to the warm and gloriously sunny weather we experienced over winter, we also faced heavy rain furthering concerns we had for our 2016 Harvest.

According to truffle aficionado, Frank Brunacci, “Too hot when it should be cold, too wet when it should be dry. The trees could even be too old. Everyone scratches their head in the truffle industry”. Ageing trees apart, this statement neatly sums up our experience.

And what happened in Sainte-Alvere? According to Patrick Maxime, Sainte Alvère’s Comptroller General, the shortage was partly due to a 14-week drought, a first of its kind in the Périgord region. And in fact there is now clear data supplied by Swiss scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change, illustrating drier summers are affecting the growth of oak and hazelnut trees. However, the shortage can’t be entirely blamed on the lack of rain as there are trufferies using irrigation systems.

In fact, the truffle shortage could be attributed to any number of reasons. Monsieur Maxime stated in his interview with Le Figaro “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.”

He went on to say that not only have they suffered a shortage, but many of the truffles found were immature or damaged. He concluded by ominously suggesting the shortage might be related to climate change, two uncomfortable words that strike disconcertingly close to home.

I plan on being philosophical; just as with everything in life, there are extremes and opposites. We’re a young trufferie and so far we have been lucky so perhaps it’s only par for nature’s course to experience a bad season. Pat de Corsie, the wife of our former mentor, Bill, well remembers 2008 as being a poor harvest but then cheerfully noted the following was a ‘bumper year’.

So to bring in a note of optimism and hopefully put it all in perspective – we are standing at the very opening of France’s truffle season and watching the season stretch towards the end of February. Much can change.

As Seneca (from the more Stoic school of thought!) says

[The wise] will start each day with the thought… Fortune gives us nothing which we can really own. Nothing, whether public or private, is stable; the destinies of men, no less than those of cities, are in a whirl. Whatever structure has been reared by a long sequence of years, at the cost of great toil and through the great kindness of the gods, is scattered and dispersed in a single day.

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1 Response

  1. I thought I’d share the latest update from Marcos Morcillo – – and his news of truffle hunting in Spain for all you travellers out there –
    “let me give you some updates about truffle season in Spain, which is the worst in decades, with almost no wild truffle in the woods. As always we don´t really know why, we come from the driest winter, so trees hardly sprout last spring and moreover spring and early summer was so warm…who knows…
    Quantities are low and in large areas in Catalonia fog has stayed for over a month with continued temperatures around 0ºC. This has lead to damage shallow truffles and not sure how trees will be affected as fog is still there.”

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