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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 11:56 GMT
Bad weather boosts truffle prices
Credit: Urbani Truffles and Caviar online
White truffles are the most expensive variety
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By Christopher Bockman
BBC World Business Report
Truffles are never cheap but this year bad weather has forced prices up sharply.

Truffles are a mushroom and much sought after delicacy used as an ingredient in many recipes in top restaurants across Europe.

Most years truffles sell for about 450 euros a kilo ($400), but this year prices have jumped by 20%.

A lack of rain over the summer followed by a very cold snap and deep frost in December destroyed many of the truffles.

The black truffles grow underground and both specially trained dogs and pigs are good at finding them.

Pet pigs at work

Madame Delon keeps hold of her pet pig, Kiki, with a piece of string as he goes to work sniffing out truffles.

Pigs sniff out truffles
Truffles are expensive this year even though they are not very good quality, according to Madame Delon.

"Normally at this time of the season prices go down, but this time around prices have gone up - why? - because they are scarce," she said.

"This is the only region where there are any, in the Midi there are hardly any - in the past they had lots."

Haggling for bargains

One of the biggest truffle markets in France takes place in the town of Lalbenque.

Once a week between October and the end of March truffle sellers gather in the central market.

The event attracts hundreds of onlookers but also a lot of serious buyers who can inspect the goods before bidding starts.

A whistle is blown to announce trading can officially start and the haggling begins.

Pricing secrecy

Many of the buyers visit the market on behalf of restaurants, some from as far away as Switzerland.

Black truffles
Black truffles prices have risen 20% this year

But buyers and sellers traditionally keep the prices to themselves.

This buyer was no exception.

"How much did it cost me? It's a secret. It's always a secret. You have to ask the woman I bought them from - the price is always a secret," he said.

No sale yet

It's going to be difficult for people in this business to get used to euros - they are still talking in francs.

French tax inspectors might raise an eyebrow or two as no one seems to pay VAT.

Trading lasts a little over half an hour.

Some sellers went home with their baskets still full, their asking price too high but they think the simple law of supply and demand is in their favour.

A lack of truffles in the rest of the country means customers might knock on their doors later in the week - away from prying eyes.

Supplementing incomes

Meanwhile Madame Delon returns home with Kiki after another successful day of truffle hunting.

Truffle hunters can't live on mushrooms alone, but in a rural area where most people earn little over 1000 euros a month, truffles can supplement incomes nicely.

But alas Kiki has not saved his bacon.

At the end of the year he will, like his predecessors, end up in a cassoulet pot.

A younger pig will be trained to take his place.

The BBC's Chris Bockman
"Buyers and sellers traditionally keep the prices to themselves"
See also:

07 Feb 01 | Europe
Black truffle alert in France
14 Nov 00 | UK
Fungus and the moneymen
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