For centuries truffles have been considered a great delicacy in France. They are always been?
For centuries truffles have been considered a great delicacy in France. They are always been hard to find and this year's crop has so far yielded only a quarter of that of last year. Today it is feared that they may becoming extinct.
Truffles are an underground fungus, and dogs and pigs have a special talent for snuffling them out. But this year even the best of them have been frustrated. They have found so few that it constitutes a national culinary disaster.
A few slices of truffle on a steak can double its price in a restaurant. They are also handy for flavouring a Christmas turkey or an omelet. They are claimed to have an aristocratic perfume and, like rhinoceros horn in the Orient, are supposed to promote virility.
Truffles are found only round certain oak trees where the ground mould is extremely rich. But in France the mould appears to be losing its vitality. Nobody knows why. In the last fifty years the truffle crop has dropped by 90 per cent. So farmers who find some can almost name their own price.
At one market near Toulouse, in Southern France, prices reached a new record. Those that were exported were selling at about 80 dollars a pound in New York.
Farmers blame the bad harvest on a lack of thunder and lightning last summer - part of the mythology of truffle-growing. Some of them blame the other farmers for neglecting to say the special truffle prayers.
Scientists admit they know little about truffle culture, though they are trying hard to find out more. A few predict that the French truffle is heading for extinction unless someone learns how to grow them in a laboratory. And that idea appals French gourmets who consider that the truffle is part of the soul of France - and you can't create soul in a test tube.