ROME (Reuters) - It is bad news for white truffle fans. Dry weather and changing climate patterns have hit production and sent prices soaring.
The winning bidder for the biggest truffle at this year's Alba White Truffle auction in Italy, from Hong Kong, paid 75,000 euros (S$119,000) for a well-rounded truffle weighing 850g.
Master truffle hunter Piercarlo Vacchina has trained his two dogs to hunt for the delicacy but says the last few years of drought have taken their toll.
He insists he is not in it for the money any more.
"More than the money, I'd say it's the passion - because unfortunately in the last few years, it's been really hard to pay even the dogs' expenses, the vet bills and everything," he adds.
Alba, a small town in the north-western region of Piemonte, is known as Italy's white truffle capital. Every year, it hosts the International Alba White Truffle Fair which attracts 100,000 visitors from all over the world who come to buy, sell and smell the tasty tuber.
A highlight is the truffle auction, now in its 18th year, with proceeds going to charitable causes. On Sunday, it took place with live satellite links to Hong Kong and Dubai.
But climate change, drought and severe storms, and a trend to grow more vines for wine, have undermined production and sent prices soaring.
Over the past 25 years, there has been a 30 per cent decrease in truffle production - and, in some places, the delicacy is disappearing altogether.
A prolonged drought this year has hit almost two-thirds of Italy's farmland, costing the agricultural industry some two billion euros, according to farmers association Coldiretti.
Limited supply of white truffles inevitably drives the prices up and this year they have reached an all-time high with an average price of 6,000 euros per kilo.
Truffle hunter Marilena Tarable says, with last week's much needed rain, the truffles have started growing a little bigger and a bit rounder because the earth has softened.