Truffle hunting season is in full swing in Italy, and famous fairs and festivals dedicated to the unique flavour of the tartufo bianco, or white truffle, are held everywhere from Piedmont to Tuscany this month.
Across Italy there are some 115 regional events dedicated to truffles, mainly in Piedmont, Molise, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria and Emilia-Romagna.
Plus there are countless ‘truffle hunting’ tours, hikes, cooking classes and tastings aimed at satisfying Italy’s truffle-hungry visitors.
And analysts now say that the tourism sub-industry springing up around the famous tuber is now worth a staggering 63 million euros in Italy.
Photo: Marco Bertorelli/AFP
“It is expected that within 20 years the annual truffle trade will reach, globally, a value of €5.2 billion,” says Massimo Feruzzi, CEO of JFC Tourism and Management, told Ansa.
“It’s only the tip of the iceberg, if we consider that this is exclusively the economic value linked to the sale of truffles,” said Feruzzi, whose company has conducted research into truffle tourism.
“In fact Italy, in this area, can really represent the unique form of tourism: so far this year the entire “truffle tourism” supply chain generated, at a national level, a turnover of 62.5 million euros from a total of 119,788 visitors.”
Like all delicacies, Feruzzi points out that the Italian white truffle trade faces a threat from ‘surrogate’ products.
“Because while it’s true that the white truffle is also found in Istria, and in some areas of Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania, you also have to look at the quality,” he said.
An 'exceptional' 850g truffle auctioned earlier this month. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
The “King of truffles”, an 850g whopper, was auctioned for €85,000 in the Italian town of Alba earlier this month
White truffles from the Alba region are highly sought after, unearthed between September 21st and January 31st using specially-trained dogs and following secret routes.
Across the country, there are some 120,000 people with a truffle hunting license who own one or more trained dogs.
This year's harvest was reportedly excellent both in terms of quantity and quality, after a difficult season last year.
The bumper 2018 harvest has brought the regular market price down, to the delight of Italy's restaurateurs, gourmands and, no doubt, its many thousands of truffle-hungry visitors.