White truffles can be found in the Piedmont region of Italy.
White truffles can be found in the Piedmont region of Italy. Mortazavifar/CC BY-SA 4.0

Last year, two pounds of Italian white truffles might set you back a little under $3,000. This year, after the driest October in 60 years, the same quantity of the rare, coveted mushroom costs well over $5,000, reports The Telegraph, sending chefs into a panic and leaving Italy’s agricultural organizations praying for rain.

The two most superior kind of truffles are the black ones from France, and these white ones, native to the Italian region of Piedmont but eaten with gusto around the world. Their short season runs from just September to December. “The white ones are only available a couple of months of the year,” according to food writer Josh Ozersky, “and there are fewer of them, and of lesser quality, every year.” Different weather conditions affect this; a dry summer followed by a wet fall seems to be ideal for growing conditions. While things didn’t look so bleak in early October, but earlier this week restaurateur Alberto Bellini told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, “Only a miracle can improve things.”

As recently as 100 years ago, no one was sure exactly what truffles were—and certainly not how they grew. Ancient scientists theorized that they were a type of root, perhaps cousins to radishes and carrots, or even the product of autumn lightning storms. In truth, their growth does look a little like magic, with a web of near-invisible filaments interlinking with particular tree roots to produce these fungal fruiting bodies, which spring up seemingly from nowhere.

It’s consequently near-impossible to farm them, with 200,000 registered hunters and their dogs instead sniffing them out as they grow in the wild. Likely locations, and the truffling rights, are guarded jealously, particularly when prices get so stratospheric. A good truffle dog can cost well over $5,000—comparable to the current price-per-kilo—but this year truffle hunters might have to make do with the companionship they offer.

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