Why did a white truffle auction for $117,795.64 at the International Alba White Truffle Fair?

The two-pound truffle sold for nearly $118,000 earlier this month to Michelin-starred chef Umberto Bombana. But what gives the truffle its coveted stature? 
The international alba truffle show showcases the best of exquisite white truffles each year. Image: shutterstock
The International Alba Truffle Show showcases the best of exquisite white truffles each year. Image: Shutterstock

Also known as ‘white gold’, white truffles has a growing fanbase with an interest that borders on fervour. Unlike its black counterparts, it cannot be farmed and must be foraged. The subterranean delicacy is found under the soil near the roots of trees. It can only be detected by well-trained dogs and pigs, adding to the mystique and price point of the ingredient. 

Which explains the two-pound white truffle that sold for nearly $118,000 in Italy earlier this month.

Michelin-starred chef Umberto Bombana won the mammoth truffle at an auction during the International Alba White Truffle Fair in northern Italy’s Piedmont region. Bombana, of the Italian restaurant 8 1/2 Otto E Mezzo Bombana in Hong Kong, cast the winning bid of $117,795.64 at the auction. 

Read: A guide to truffles with Chef Roberto Zorzoli of Romano’s at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar

The event was hosted at the Castle of Grinzane Cavour in Grinzane Cavour, with offers accepted simultaneously from Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, and Moscow. The prized truffle was a white tuber truffle, which is typically found anywhere from two to eight inches below the ground.

The distinct aroma and earthy nature of truffle has earned it legions of fans across the world. Chefs in gourmet circles rarely need an excuse to shave some of this indulgent delicacy over pastas, pizzas, or even appetizers and give it an exquisite touch. The countries that hold white truffles in such high regard include Georgia, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, Bulgaria, as well as the Middle East.

For the uninitiated, a truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus. It is one of many species of the genus Tuber. To be exact, they are a fungus known as ectomycorrhizal that are found in close association with tree roots. 

The winter white truffle (Tuber magnatum) is sometimes called a Piedmont or Alba Truffle, because Italy has been blessed with an abundance of white truffles. Harvested from October to December, the short winter season is the only opportunity to get your hands on the rare ingredient. However, there have been reports of French scientists researching feasible ways to harvest and farm white truffles. 

The price for white truffles hit an all-time high earlier this year. Selling for anywhere between $4,500 to $5000 per pound, truffle lovers have never experienced higher prices. Experts are pegging this inflation to a dry, hot summer in Italy, as well as global supply chain issues owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All this juxtaposed with the high intensity of an auction, and the auction price starts to make a little more sense. Fortunately, all proceeds went to charity. 

While this was certainly an outrageously priced sale, white truffles bigger than these have been getting snatched off the market for years now. A 4.16 pound white truffle held the record of being the most expensive sale a mere couple of years ago. With increasing climate changes affecting the growth of the ingredient, one might have to get accustomed to its far more affordable black counterpart. 

Read more. 

Best Italian restaurants in India