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Now French and English copy the white truffle

Tuber magnatum Pico could be produced in the UK thanks to a discovery of French scientists

At stake is a business estimated at over half a billion euros on the entire Italian peninsula, with prices for white truffles that this year reached up to 3 thousand euros per kilogram for the smallest sizes

Just a few days ago the announcement: in a press conference the results of 9 years of joint research between the French research center INRAE and the Robin nurseries were presented, during which the first plantations for the cultivation of prized white truffles, using seedlings previously mycorrhized with Tuber magnatum. The real persistence of the tuber in these plantations was verified three / eight years after their realization and, in one of them, the first truffles were collected in 2019, four and a half years after the planting of the mycorrhizal plants. "The scientific results of this work - stated a note three days ago - were published on February 16 in the journal Mycorrhiza. The production of T. magnatum fruiting bodies in a plantation outside its natural range is a first worldwide and opens the way to the development of the cultivation of this truffle in Italy, but also elsewhere in the world".

The news also sparked the enthusiasm of Joël Giraud, French secretary of state for rural affairs: "As a former deputy from the Hautes-Alpes and member of the government in charge of the defense of rural territories, I wanted to congratulate you on this first world. It is a perfect illustration of the innovation capacity of rural areas, which the government supports and encourages”, he said. We remind you that the Tuber magnatum Pico, known as the white truffle of Italy or the white truffle of Alba, is the rarest and most expensive truffle. It is harvested exclusively in woodlands in Italy and in some other European countries (in the Balkan peninsula, more rarely in Switzerland and in the south-east of France), but the supply often fails to satisfy the high demand on a global level.

Today, however, the alarm of Coldiretti, who in a press release extends the question to the borders of the United Kingdom: "With Brexit, the British have begun to copy the prized White Truffle in the laboratory which could soon replace the Italian one on British tables, which on the contrary it grows spontaneously". The precious Tuber magnatum Pico "could be produced in Great Britain thanks to the discovery of scientists from the French National Institute for Research on Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE) who in their laboratories would have refined the art of cultivating it. Officials said a batch of white truffle oak saplings have already been brought to the UK in an attempt to start production".

A novelty that raises concern - points out Coldiretti - since the white truffle is the one that until now could only be found in nature, collected exclusively in woodland in Italy and in some countries of the Balkans. Even if the British soils, calcareous and humid, would be particularly suitable for their cultivation according to scientists, it is desirable that the tubers "copied" and produced in the plants still have a specific label, to avoid deceiving consumers and increasing the risks of sale on the market of low-cost imports passed off as Italians, perhaps as a prized tricolor white truffle. "A phenomenon against which it is no coincidence that Coldiretti is committed to asking for the traceability of transactions and the mandatory indication of origin". At stake is a business estimated at over half a billion euros throughout the peninsula, with prices for the white truffle that this year reached up to 3 thousand euros per kilogram for the smallest pieces".

While waiting to understand if the British attempts to produce the prized tuber will be successful, the most immediate problems for the Italian truffle supply chain remain those linked to the Covid emergency, with the closure of the catering channel which is in fact the main one market outlet, with the consequent paralysis of sales. But the limitations imposed by the prevention measures that have - continues the association of direct growers - have also weighed on the organization of traditional exhibitions, festivals and events dedicated to truffles. A very serious damage, also considering the perishable nature of the fresh product, which affects the approximately 100,000 official collectors present on the national territory, from Piedmont to the Marche, from Tuscany to Umbria, from Abruzzo to Molise, but also in Lazio and Calabria. But the truffle also plays an economic function in support of inland wooded areas where it represents an important income integration for local communities, with positive effects on tourist flows as evidenced by the numerous celebrations organized in his honor.

The truffle is a fungus that lives underground and is made up of a high percentage of water and mineral salts absorbed from the soil through the roots of the tree with which it lives in symbiosis. Born and developed near the roots of trees such as pine, holm oak, cork oak and truffle, it owes its characteristics (color, flavor and scent) to the type of tree in which it developed. The shape, on the other hand, depends on the type of soil: if it is soft, the truffle will appear smoother, if compact, it will become gnarled and lumpy due to the difficulty of making space.

"These gifts of nature are known for their strong aphrodisiac and cooking power - concludes Coldiretti -; the white (Tuber Magnatum Pico) must be strictly tasted raw on well-known foods such as fondue, tajarin with butter and risotto, and for how much concerns wines, it should be paired with great red wines".

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EFA News - European Food Agency