It is estimated that 2,000-3,000 Greeks are involved in truffle hunting and production, with Greek truffles now being exported as far away as the US.
The truffle wholesale prices in the European market are €3,000 ($3,700) per kilogram but substantially higher in the United States.
Hunting for truffles, or cultivating them, is a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor without guaranteed results. The cost of a specially-trained dog that can locate the precious fungi starts at €1,000.
Truffle hunting is not easy either. It may take a trained dog weeks or months to find even a small quantity of the rare fungus.
Cultivating it by using special trees around which truffles grow can take 12 years before they appear. And even if they do, their delicate nature does not guarantee that they would not spoil right away.
The special trees, which are imported, have the truffle fungus grafted onto their root. To cultivate a few acres, several thousand euros are needed. The price of the special trees is also very steep and the investment takes years to pay off.
“It takes at least 12 years to get truffles from a tree that you have planted yourself. If it is earlier, it is forbidden to take it out,” Giorgos Sergianidis, a farmer and truffle producer explains. “It’s a good idea to plant some trees if you do not want to get money right away but have an income a few years later.”
Common truffles on the table
The black truffle or black Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is the second-most commercially valuable species and grows in Europe.
The black summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), also known as Burgundy, is found across Europe as well and is prized for its culinary value.
The white truffle or Alba Madonna (“Truffle of the White Madonna” in Italian) (Tuber magnatum) is found mainly in the Piedmont region in northern Italy; it is more rare than the black truffles and more expensive.
A variety of white truffle (Tuber magnatum pico) is found in other parts of northern and central Italy.
The “whitish truffle” (Tuber borchii) is a similar species found in Tuscany and other areas in Italy. Not as aromatic as the Alba.
Greek truffles go to America
The Tuber magnatum pico also grows very well in Greece. The Greek Alba truffle has made it to fine restaurants in the U.S. thanks to Greek export company Eklekto, says a Bloomberg report.
According to the report, Italian truffles go through many hands before they reach American restaurants, and some times counterfeit products reach the final destination.
But Eklekto partners Peter Weltman and George Athanas say they work only with a small group of Greek foragers and know exactly where the product is from.
Apart from the trusted forager working with his trusty dog, Weltman and Athanas are the only people that touch the truffles before they are packed in the box to be exported, the company says.
With Alba wholesale prices climbing due to drought, it was easy for the Greek truffles to enter the American market. Last year, Italian truffles jumped to $3,500 a pound. Greek truffles were slightly cheaper, going for $3,150 a pound, Bloomberg said.