WHITE truffle season is back again, but this time, things are looking up. Following last year's disappointing harvest, this year has started off promisingly for those in the truffle business. "The seasons are not as regular like they were in the past, because the weather is quite crazy. But this year's truffle will be cheaper than last year, maybe slightly above half of last year's price," says Francesco Marconi, who runs Trifola Pte Ltd, a truffle distribution company based in Singapore.
White truffle can be found in different parts of Italy, some areas of France, and certain countries in Eastern Europe like Yugoslavia and Croatia among others. However, it is the ones from a small town called Alba in Piedmont, Italy that have the best reputation for its aroma and quality. Restaurants can purchase the Alba white truffle for about $5,000 to $7,000 per kilogram this year, compared to last year's high of $10,000 to $13,000. The price range depends on the quality and size of the truffles, as larger specimens are considered rare and can command a higher price per kilogram. These current figures are nowhere near fixed, as they may fluctuate according to the weather patterns in Italy as the season progresses. If the country sees heavy rains in the weeks to come, the ground could become too wet for the truffle hunters' dogs to sniff out the truffle's rich scent.
"It is always difficult to predict because if the season gets worse and the quantity is limited, there will be an automatic price jump through the sky," says Roberto Galetti of Garibaldi, who brings in Alba white truffles from a personal friend living in the Piedmont region.
But even if this year ends up having an unexpectedly high yield, Galetti doubts prices will go any lower than they currently are, as most truffle hunters who lost money during the bad harvest last year would be trying to recover their losses with this year's sales. Still, the drop in price is already enough for some restaurants to feel confident enough to bring in more truffle this year to meet growing demands. According to il Lido's Chef Beppe De Vito, his restaurant was cautious last year about how much they were bringing in, but this year he already foresees an increase to their current pace of one kilogram per week.
"It's not just the rich people who are willing to pay for truffle now, we can propose it to anybody who walks in and there is a good take up rate. For example, at least one out of two young couples will say yes when we offer it," he says.
"It's one of those things with a cult following. Like anything with a label in Asia, like Wagyu, the demand will keep growing as long as Asia keeps growing and more people become affluent."
Similarly, Chef Lino Sauro who owns Gattopardo has noticed a higher demand for truffle, and attributes it to an increasing awareness. At the moment, he estimates about 20 restaurants in Singapore using white truffle. Even French restaurant Saint Pierre brings in white truffle at this time of year, and Chef Emmanuel Stroobant handpicks them himself through a supplier that brings them in exclusively from Italy.
"It's mostly about the smell and feel. It needs to be heavy and dense, with no holes that could have been made by worms. Think of it as a banana. You can see the black rotten spots, and if you touch it you can feel the soft parts caused by damage. It's like picking any fruit, really," he explains.