ROME (BLOOMBERG) – In an unusual twist of culinary fortunes, a swine-disease outbreak in Italy means the harvest season for its renowned truffles is getting cut short.
African swine fever was detected in wild boar this month in the country’s north-west.
To quell further spread of the illness, which is highly contagious and fatal for pigs, officials issued a six-month ban on activities from mushroom-collecting to hunting and mountain biking to keep people from areas where the boar roam.
That includes scouting for truffles, the prized mushrooms shaved on pasta and infused in oils that can cost thousands per kilogram.
Italy’s Piedmont region, where the infected pig was found, is famous for the delicacy and hosts an annual showcase in Alba for haute cuisine fans. Truffles grow on tree roots and are often scouted deep into the forest, with dogs trained to sniff out their musky scent.
The restrictions – announced this week by the agriculture and health ministries – are being enforced in some municipalities and are likely to expand across the region, according to Mr Daniele Stroppiana, a truffle hunter and merchant in Piedmont.
January marks the end of the season for white truffles, the most expensive variety which has sold at 6,000 euros (S$9,220) per kilogram this year. But the ban will hurt the harvest for lower-valued black truffles that runs through March.
“We hope that the ban won’t help the import of truffles from abroad. Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and Iran are producers,” Mr Stroppiana said by phone.
Truffle markets have been upended in the past two years as the pandemic shuttered restaurants and halted tourism, curbing demand for high-end food.
Mr Stroppiana said he secured a special permit for truffle searching during the lockdowns, but buyers were lacking.
Still, the new collection limits could ultimately aid future harvests of the elusive mushrooms.
“Truffles would rest for a season and there may be more the next year,” Mr Stroppiana said. “Intensive collecting is making truffles more rare to find than before. A rest would be bad in economic terms, but not for natural cycles, for sure.”