Truffles are part of the fungi family and one of the world’s most expensive gourmet foods, renowned for their rich aroma and complex flavour. Truffles are a premium cooking ingredient favoured by chefs across the globe.
Truffles have always been expensive. There are two main reasons for this. One is that truffles can be hard to grow, so they’re always in short supply. The other is that the harvest season is comparatively brief. For example, the European truffle season lasts only a few months.
Recent scientific developments have allowed companies such as ourselves to cultivate truffles with a high degree of success. Supply is gradually increasing.Other pioneers are growing truffles in the Southern hemisphere. This is providing a second harvest season for the global market.
Despite the increase in supply, and extended harvest season, the price of truffles continues to rise. Why is that?
Truffle Prices Keep On Rising
The new-found availability of truffles has brought them to a new audience. The demand has grown even faster than the supply. Chefs are inventing new recipes using truffles. Today you are can see truffles being served in both food trucks and fine-dining establishments.
Before We Begin
Just to be clear, a truffle is not a type of chocolate.
But, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So it’s no surprise that chocolatiers wanting to make their chocolate appear luxurious and decadent chose to model them on the truffle.
What Is A Truffle?
A truffle is the body of the fungi genus Tuber. It is part of the mushroom family. But there is one big difference between truffles and mushrooms. While mushrooms grow above ground, truffles grow underground. They live on the roots of their preferred trees. As a result, truffles need to be dug up for harvesting.
Farmers train either pigs or dogs to hunt down the truffles, using their excellent sense of smell. Both are well suited to the task, although pigs will eat the truffles themselves given the opportunity.
There are dozens of different truffles found across the world, but only a few are grown and eaten on a significant scale. These are also the only truffles with much market value.
Some of the most popular are:
The classic black truffle is one of the most expensive and highly sought-after on the market. This truffle is native to Southern France and harvested between late November and the end of March.
The Burgundy truffle is famous for its unique flavour which contains chocolate and hazelnut notes, as well as garlic. This compliments the earthy flavour common to all truffles. The Burgundy truffle is harvested in the Dordogne region of France, from Autumn until December. Although native to France, they can be found in other parts of Europe.
White Piedmont Truffle
Named after the Piedmont region in Italy where most of these truffles grow, the white truffle is the most expensive truffle in the world. Unfortunately for farmers, it is notoriously difficult to grow. Cultivation outside the Piedmont region has been nearly impossible.
Newer species of truffle like the Australian truffle and Oregon truffle are now regularly seen on the market. So too is the Chinese truffle. This truffle has little value or flavour. However, it looks remarkably like the Perigord truffle. Unscrupulous sellers may try to sell substandard Chinese truffles as Perigord truffles so only buy from a trusted source.
If you are buying truffles and the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Perigord truffle farmers know the value of their crop and will never have reason to sell at significant markdown.
Why Are Truffles So Expensive?
The price of truffles is set by the market. Since there is a high demand and very limited supply, truffle prices are high. They will stay that way, too.
The reasons for the limited supply is down to a few factors. The first factor is the shortage of truffle producing trees. During World War One masses of hazel, beech and oak trees were destroyed. These were prime truffle-producing trees and their loss devastated truffle production.
Truffles had once a seasonal food enjoyed by people living in the European countryside. After the war they became extremely rare.
The limited supply of truffles is also linked to the difficulties involved in growing them. Growing truffles requires a lot of variables to come together. These include the correct soil, climate and the right types of tree. Unlike most fruit and vegetables, you can’t simply plant the trees and expect a successful harvest. Growing truffles takes time, experience, and expertise.
There is also the matter of timing to consider. Truffles are a seasonal food and can only be harvested for a few months per year.
Even during these months, the supply is limited. Truffles need to be eaten while they are fresh. There is a small window of time where truffles can be eaten. At the most, truffles need to be eaten within 3 weeks of harvesting. Ideally they should be eaten within a few days. It is possible to freeze truffles if you want to keep them long term.
Which Is The Most Expensive Truffle?
The most expensive truffle is the Italian White Truffle. Growing only in the Alba region of Italy, these truffles have sold for some eye-watering sums. The most expensive ever sold was a 2.86 lbs truffle which sold for $330,000 back in 2010. This works out at $115,384 per pound. The buyer, a Hong Kong casino owner, also bought the second and third most expensive truffles of all time.
In second place was a 3.3 lbs truffle which also sold for $330,000. The third most expensive truffle was a 2.2 lbs truffle that sold for $200,000.
Seeing profits like this is enough to put dollar signs in anyone’s eyes, but can the average person generate money growing truffles?
Is It Possible To Make Money Growing Truffles?
It depends. Successful truffle farms generate huge profits every year. Amateur enthusiasts who plant a few trees in the back garden may spend years without enjoying a successful harvest.
As with most things in life it comes down to research, hard work, and being in the right place at the right time.
The big truffle farms maximize their chances of success. They employ the latest scientific methods to inoculate trees with truffles. The farming sites are carefully chosen. In order for truffles to grow the land must have the right soil, climate and access to its own water supply. A drought can kill truffles before they have a chance to grow. Access to enough fresh water can be the difference between success and failure.
Farmers also need access to trained pigs or dogs, to sniff out the truffles at harvest time.
Amateur gardeners who don’t have access to all these shouldnt give up, but need to temper expectations.
Is Investing In Truffles A Good Idea?
There are a few reasons why truffle producing trees are an excellent investment.
For starters, it’s a green, eco-friendly investment. Your investment is working on your behalf to help fight climate change and strengthen local ecosystems.
Truffles also offer strong returns. Investors can expect their investment to yield more than 15% returns each year. Speak with your financial adviser and they will confirm just how impressive that is.
Other farming investments might offer similar returns, but they are unlikely to deliver. Truffles are unique because of the high value of the product, and scarcity of supply.
A truffle investment is a good way to diversify your portfolio. Truffles are immune to the turbulence of the stock or housing markets. Crypto is the latest fad, but with regulations imminent, 99% of cryptos will go to zero.
The future for truffles, on the other hand, is secure. Truffles offer a chance to enjoy generous annual returns free of stress. Both your bank balance and the planet will thank you.