We had a good bit of sport over the astronomical prices paid this past summer for white truffles in New York restaurants. But what if their black cousins, long the déclassé branch of the family, became even more expensive? Or disappeared entirely? That wouldn’t be so funny. And it wouldn’t be good for the price of white truffles, which, like Beluga caviar and shark-fin soup, could become a purely plutocratic pleasure sooner than we expected. (Not that truffles are evil in the way of Beluga caviar and shark-fin soup; we’re just thinking of endangered luxury foods, you understand.) An article in USA Today suggests that the global warming is currently bringing the hammer down on black-truffle production and that (gasp) “France’s black truffle will one day be just a memory.” It’s a similar story around the world, as fish stocks are depleted, ecosystems are knocked out of whack, and global demand for things like toro and truffles move beyond a small cluster of ascot-wearing bons vivants.
So why not just grow the things in a farm somewhere? We asked that question to John Magazino, one of the country’s top truffle experts, and he says that there are truffle farms, such as one in Soria, Spain, that produce thousands of pounds of truffles in irrigated arbors. “They’re quite good,” he says, “but a few thousand pounds a year doesn’t cut it. Places like Daniel and Per Se go through twenty pounds a week.” As if to underscore his point, Magazino tells us that he is setting out to Umbria on a truffle-hunting trip with Marco Canora of Insieme, Jonathan Benno of Per Se, and a few other New York chefs, to get black truffles while they can.