Cheap(er) treasure

Alba’s truffles now affordable?

Joe Bartolone
October 21, 2010

This August's rains left fields damp, but they did not dampen the spirits of truffle connoisseurs around the city of Alba. October 8 marked the beginning of the Alba International White Truffle Fair, which runs through November 14.

 

This year, there are abundant reasons for fair goers to rejoice: a larger harvest, higher quality, and lower prices-much lower.

 

A hectogram of this season's truffles is projected to cost 200 euro, down 100 euro from last year, and less than a third of the price in 2007, which reached 750 euro per hectogram. According to Mauro Carbone, director of the National Centre for Truffle Studies, ‘This is probably the lowest figure since the introduction of the euro.'

 

The official truffle harvest runs from September 14 to January 31, so the picture may change. ‘We're still looking for the best "cuts,"' remarked Carbone. The most valuable truffles harvested thus far were presented to interior minister Roberto Maroni and the mayor of Turin, Sergio Chiamparino at the fair's opening ceremony. Anticipation continues to build as the regions of Alba, Umbria, and Marche compete for the title of best truffle producer.

 

With their high cost, truffles are equated with celebrity status. Indeed, each weekend in October, the fair draws international high-profile consumers, among them restaurateur Wolfgang Puck. The hand-picked delicate tubers will soon garnish the plates of such Hollywood stars as Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts as well as those of royalty, among them Britain's Prince Philip.

 

Yet with the great jump in yield and subsequent lowering of prices, truffle marketers hope to shed the ‘elitist' status of the tiny treasure. 'For 1,000 euro, grated truffles produce 22,000 euro in tourist revenue,' commented Carbone. This is a well-known equation in the markets of Alba: affordability encourages visitors and, consequently, induces sales.

 

Moreover, the truffle market has quality-control mechanisms thanks to the National Centre of Truffle Studies, which sets criteria for the Truffle Club, the circuit of quality restaurants offering the delightful fungi. To view a complete list of participating restaurants, go to www.tuber.it

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