By Matt Goldstein
Because of supply and demand, the price of truffles have skyrocketed to such an extent that gangsters, thieves and drug dealers are getting into the mix as well as the inevitable Chinese bootleg truffles. A truffle is just a kind of mushroom, root or fungus that basically looks like a clump of dirt. French cuisine has made truffles so popular that they have become extremely rare and the French truffles must be found in the wild in France. Most truffle hunters actually use dogs to sniff them out. About 2 handfuls of truffles go for about $1000. Yup, a regular size carton of mushrooms from the market would be $1000 if they were French Truffles. One truffle the size of a mini football sold for about $300,000. A mushroom flavor with an earthy tone, this distinct taste is very difficult to imitate.
Because the price and demand for truffles are so high, gangsters, thieves, smugglers and bootleggers have gotten into the mix. Famous French Chef Bruno who was featured on 60 Minutes, was robbed of 200 of Kilos. The thieves did not even try to steal any money. Workers in the French Truffle industry have been carjacked, beaten with baseball bats and even murdered. Gangsters are even kidnapping truffle hunting dogs as to use themselves to find the truffles.
Theft, violence and gangsters have made the truffle trade dangerous but perhaps the worst thing for authentic French Truffles, are the cheap Chinese knock offs. Truffle in China were basically worthless at one point and used as animal feed, but one business man thought instead of feeding it to the pigs, why not feed it to the French? There is no difference anyway. Just kidding, of course there is a difference between the truffles. The cheaper, more abundant Chinese truffles are now mixing up the market and the being packaged in France with labels claiming they are a product of France.
Chinese truffles are harvested immediately when found, but French truffles are harvested usually when ripe. The difference is a major impact on flavor. Chinese truffles are about $20 per pound while French truffles are about $1000. Hundreds of French restaurants are passing off the Chinese truffles but still charging French truffle prices. With 400,000pounds of Chinese truffles being imported into France each year, many of the truffles are packaged and then exported with a label saying product of France. Because of the law, the package Chinese truffles from France will usually say “Tuber Indicum,” on the back in small print, meaning “Chinese Truffles.” Deceitful yes, but legal of course.
Source: 60 Minutes