No one can argue that the French aren’t passionate about their food and passions rarely run higher than when they’re discussing the virtues of the black, or Perigord, truffle. It has all the hallmarks of a great tradition about it: the rarity, the difficulty in finding it; the worldwide appeal; and perhaps most importantly, its reputation as one of the truly great delicacies of the world.
As it is only found around oak trees and in quite a small area, the Perigord is greatly prized and held in high esteem. Harvesting and selling these truffles is a serious business and although there are no real hard and fast rules with regards to locating and cultivating, this actually makes the truffle more endearing and enigmatic. The smallest truffles tend to be about 2 cm in diameter and they usually lie approximately 20 cm underground so there is absolutely no chance of stumbling upon them by accident. They are detectable only by their smell, which is why pigs and dogs, with their acute sense of smell, are used to search for truffles.
The annual black truffle harvest has declined pretty significantly over recent years. Perhaps it’s due to over harvesting or just because more people are out searching for them. After all, it’s a bit of a money-spinner if you’re good at it. Truffles can take years to reach maturity so I suppose it’s a bit like fishing; maybe you just need to leave an area alone for a while until stocks are replenished. It’s also believed that the war had a pretty dramatic impact on the availability of truffles. So many trees were destroyed during the war that the natural habitat was no longer there. It takes time for a mighty oak tree to grow.