Wet summer and sunny autumn create perfect conditions for prized truffles, sending usually high prices tumblingThey are a famously expensive culinary indulgence but an unusually wet summer followed by a warm autumn has made Italy's prized white truffles affordable for once.
Specially-trained dogs are digging up a record haul of the elusive fungi, which emerge from the damp leaf litter of the forest floor at this time of year.
Truffle hunters, who keep their best spots a closely guarded secret, are celebrating what could be one of the best harvests in recent years.
While the wet weather has been a disaster for Italy's winemakers, who fear one of the worst grape harvests for 50 years, it has been beneficial for the pungent truffles, which grow hidden at the base of oak, beech and hazel trees.
White truffles, which are rarer and more expensive than black truffles, are this season selling for around €2,000 (£1,580) a kilogram, down from €3,500 last year and an eye-watering €5,000 in 2012.
AdvertisementThe white variety, or "tartufo bianco" to give it its Italian name, is mostly found in the woods and fields of the Piedmont region, in the north of Italy, with the towns of Alba and Asti particularly famous for the delicacy.
As the wholesale price of white truffles drops, so too does the price of sampling the fungi in a plate of pasta, said Mauro Carbone, the head of the National Centre for Truffle Studies in Alba.
"The first harvest has been decidedly better than those of the past few years. With the weather we have had, the price has reduced substantially.
"This year you'll be able to enjoy a dish based on truffles for about €20," he said.
The bumper harvest will be celebrated at an International Truffle Fair in Alba which starts on Saturday and continues until Nov 16, where visitors can take part in tastings and cooking demonstrations.
The summer was a washout in some parts of Italy, particularly in the north, with unusually heavy rainfall and floods.
But it has been followed by a dry, sunny autumn over much of the peninsula, creating the perfect conditions for truffle growth.
There an estimated 200,000 regular truffle gatherers in Italy, with the sector worth around €400 million a year.
While the white truffles of Piedmont are particularly prized, black truffles are found in most parts of the country, with the central region of Umbria accounting for 30 per cent of total production.
Tuscany and the Marche region also produced large quantities of the aromatic tuber, which was celebrated by Plutarch and Cicero in Roman times and has been much sought after by gourmands ever since.
Italian white truffle lovers celebrate bumper harvest - Telegraph