France claims culinary coup with Italian white truffle harvest

White truffles are usually only found in small areas of northern Italy or central Europe
White truffles are usually only found in small areas of northern Italy or central Europe MARCO BERTORELLO AFP/File
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Grenoble (France) (AFP)

French researchers announced Tuesday that they had succeeded in cultivating the rare white truffles mainly found in Italy, a breakthrough that could spur more widespread efforts to grow the prized delicacy.

The species, tuber magnatum, is the pride of Italy's Alba region, with prices at its annual autumn auction that regularly surpass 300 euros for just 100 grams ($360 for 3.5 ounces).

Like their French cousins, the famed black truffles of the Perigord region, white truffles are nearly impossible to transplant to climates that do not have the same soil, fauna or weather conditions.

But several years ago Bruno Robin, a French plant nursery owner, teamed up with France's national agriculture research institute (INRAE) to start selling saplings complete with white truffle spores.

There was no guarantee of success as farmers waited years for the fungal network to grow and start producing -- but over the past two years a handful have been now been harvested in southwest France.

"It's the first time that tuber magnatum have been harvested at a plantation outside the truffle's geographical area of distribution," Robin told journalists during a video conference.

He hopes to sell "a few thousand" of the truffle-tree saplings this year, which could see French farmers cultivating a culinary gem usually found in small areas of northern Italy or central Europe.

"It's a major development for us," Michel Tournayre, president of the French federation of truffle growers, said during the video call -- not least because white truffles command prices nearly three times higher than black truffles.

France currently produces around 30 tonnes of truffles each year.