ALBA, ITALY (NOVEMBER 11, 2017) (REUTERS) – Alba in the north western region of Piemonte is known as Italy’s white truffle capital. Licensed truffle hunters forage from autumn through late February with dogs trained to recognize their scent. Growing spontaneously in the earth in just a few regions of Italy and central Europe, white truffles have a unique flavour and aroma.
Truffles are found two to eight inches below the ground near the roots of trees with which they live in symbiosis. As they evaporate they give off an odour which lasts for a limited period of time and can only be detected by the assistance of well-trained dogs and experienced hunters. White truffles grow only naturally in forests, unlike black truffles which can be cultivated on plantations.
Master truffle hunter Piercarlo Vacchina has trained his two dogs to hunt for the rare delicacy. Rocky is a 10-year-old mixed breed dog who has been trained since he was a puppy and Jimmy, an eight-month-old springer spaniel both seem to enjoy their work. Vacchina says it’s like a game for the dogs, and with the last few years of drought across the country he insists that he’s not in it for the money, but his love of the countryside and tradition.
Over the past 25 years, there has been a 30 percent decrease in truffle production – and, in some places, they are disappearing altogether.
Reasons are climate change, drought and severe storms and growing more vines.
Almost two-thirds of Italy’s farmland has been hit by a prolonged drought this year, costing Italian agriculture some €2bn ($2.3bn; £1.8bn), according to farmers association Coldiretti.
Limited supplies of white truffles inevitably drives the prices up and this year they have reached an all time high.
The historic International Alba White Truffle Fair attracts around 100,000 visitors each year from all over the world, they come to buy, to sell and to smell.
A highlight is the truffle auction which took place in Grinzane Cavour Castle on Sunday (November 12) with live satellite links to Hong Kong and Dubai.
The winning bid for the largest truffle at the auction came from Hong Kong a massive €75,000 for a well-rounded truffle weighing 850g.