French Black Truffles Could Disappear Within a Generation, Study Finds

Surprise! It's because of climate change.

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Dec 5 2018, 7:24pm

Photo by PASCAL GUYOT/AFP via Getty Images.

It’s unusual for us to see stories in our newsfeed on the exact same topic but with polar opposite headlines, unless it’s opposing takes from, say, Infowars and Democracy Now!. So suffice it to say that we were a little confused to see the Wall Street Journal reporting that white truffle prices this year “dropped to lows not seen in more than a decade” due to an abundant European harvest, while Modern Farmer was reporting on a new study that estimates that “the entire European [black] truffle harvest may be gone within a generation.”

What’s going on here???

Truffles are, taxonomically speaking, a fungus. They grow best and most plentifully with rainy summers, dry winters, and moderate temperatures year-round. This season brought a generous amount of rain to the Piedmont region of Italy, where the extraordinarily precious Alba white truffle comes from. So the harvest for the world’s most expensive fungi increased significantly over recent years, driving down its price. Not that that means much for us unwashed masses of the world—the white truffles are currently averaging between $1,030 and $1,286 per pound, down from an average of $5,671 from this time last year, according to the WSJ. And that’s not even considering retail markup for the average Joe.

But looking at the long-term picture, even if the Alba’s price fluctuates from time to time at Mother Nature’s whim, the fate of black truffles, the next-most valuable tubers, is in serious jeopardy. On the whole across Europe, the predicted effects of climate change over the next generation could entirely wipe out France’s Périgord black truffle.

At the turn of the 20th century, France was producing hundreds, leaning toward thousands, of tons of black truffles per year. More recent numbers for the total yield for black truffles hover around just 40 tons per year. Dr. Paul Thomas, of the University of Stirling in Scotland, led a study with Professor Ulf Büntgen of the University of Cambridge that investigated what the effects of climate change could have on the European ecosystem as they impact the Tuber melanosporum, or the Périgord black winter truffle. “Our new study predicts that, under the most likely climate change scenario, European truffle production will decline by between 78 and 100 percent between 2071 and 2100,” he said in a press release for the journal Science of the Total Environment.

According to their observations based on studying records over a 36-year period in truffle regions in France, Italy, and Spain, those effects could be drastic ecological changes caused by heat waves, forest fires, pests, and diseases, on top of the increasingly warmer and drier climate. The researchers combined this history of meteorological data and truffle yields with “state-of-the-art” climate model projections to predict what might befall the truffle industry.

Although there are likely to be many more populations that become increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change by 2100—namely, humans in already-struggling parts of the global south—it is still rather jarring to realize that an item with centuries of cultural and economic significance for many Europeans could be totally gone within less than 100 years. So get your hands on some of those Alba’s while they’re “cheap,” and live a little while we watch the world burn.