Tracking truffles

Truffle poaching is becoming a real problem in France, according to Newsweek. As much as 10 percent of this season’s crop may have been stolen, truffle growers are up in arms, and the gendarmes are out in force with night vision goggles. But is there a high-tec answer?

In December, Cholin proposed embedding a microchip in truffles to track stolen ones using Global Positioning System satellites. The idea was discussed at a meeting of the French Federation of Truffle Growers, but didn’t go far. One drawback: police would have no way of distinguishing fleeing thieves from roaming boars, who also fancy truffles. Another: the tracking technology is similar to the radio transmitters naturalists use to follow birds, but it won’t be small enough to go unnoticed in truffles for another decade, according to Franck Pantaleo, head radio-communications researcher at Saphelec, a firm in Marseilles.

The technology is, however, compact enough to hide in cigarette-size beacons at the bottom of truffle crates, for a cost of less than 500 euros. “The truffle market is taking off right now,” says Marc Le Floch, head of sales at Cadden, a Nantes-based seller of the beacons. Ludovic Blanc is one broker who probably wishes he had a tracker: after he left a truffle market in Aups two weeks ago, bandits brandishing firearms sideswiped Blanc’s car and forced him to stop, then relieved him of some 40 kilos of truffles.

Jean-Marie Rocchia, a producer from Beaureceuil, thinks he has a better idea. Rocchia drills holes in selected tubers still in the ground and inserts tiny rolled notes in each. Truffles harvested by hands other than his hold a warning for chefs: their black diamond is stolen, and the seller should be reported to the police.

There are times when living a French idyll is not all that appealing. But I do like M Rocchia’s witty solution. He’s the author of Des Truffes en général et de la Rabasse en particulier, a wonderful tome that takes a knowledgeable and irreverent look at the world of truffles. Recommended if you can read French.

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