One of France’s most prized food exports is the black truffle. The earthy edible mushrooms are often harvested in the Périgord region of southwest France, where trained pigs or dogs sniff out their subterranean locations. Farmers dig up the mushrooms, and sell them for a hefty sum. However, The New York Times reports that the valuable fungus is no longer 100% synonymous with Gallic identity. In fact, chances are that the gourmet mushrooms you’re savoring at your city’s finest French restaurant might hail from Spain.
According to the Times, a variety of factors—industrialization, climate change, and wars, to name a few—have caused France’s truffle output to dwindle over the past 100 years. In 1904, the country yielded 1040 metric tons of truffles. By 2014, that number had plummeted to 56 tons.
Meanwhile, Spain is now producing approximately 45 tons of truffles a year, and exporting about 95 percent of this amount to France and other countries. These mushrooms reportedly taste similar to the French black truffle and are often sold as the Périgord truffle—even though they weren’t dug up in Périgord.
Spanish gourmands rarely eat the black truffle, but they’re aware that it’s a valuable commodity. As a result, Spain is now investing in truffle production. Regional governments are trying to pump up output, providing funding for irrigation systems and importing migrant workers to dig up the fancy fungus.
Much of the harvesting occurs in the country’s east-central hills, where farmers inject the fungus into a sapling root, grow it in a greenhouse, and transplant it to a field. Thanks to the mushroom’s steep price tag, security cameras monitor fields, and the crop is frequently sold in a secretive manner. Business transactions are often completed in cash, too. For this reason, the Times reports that it’s hard to track and monitor definitive sales numbers.
However, while Spain appears to be an emerging global player in truffle production, France is still the leader. And since this year’s mild winter will likely impact Spain’s harvest, this fact might not be changing any time soon. Meanwhile, few Spaniards have taken a liking to the pungent mushroom—meaning that even though it's now raking in the big bucks, it might never be as beloved in their country as it is in France.
[h/t The New York Times]