As the price of Tuber melanosporum – better known as the rare black Périgord truffle – has soared to €1,200 (£978) a kilo in France, producers have called in gendarmes to protect their valuable harvest. Officers of the paramilitary force are patrolling the production areas in the Drôme, south-east France, and have also reportedly set up roadblocks to search cars for stolen fungi.
Several thieves have been arrested, according to producers, who harvest the "black diamonds" between December and the end of February. Truffles are used, by those who can afford them, to flavour their Christmas and new year meals. "Every year, around 15 days from Christmas, the prices soar as people want truffle for their seasonal preparations. It's also the time when the thieves hit our plantations," one truffle producer said.
Véronique Fauvier, gendarmerie captain in Nyons, heart of the truffle-producing Vaucluse region, said: "We are carrying out patrols day and night in the remote areas, near the woods. We have a precise map of the areas where the truffles are found. For the last two years we have worked with the truffle producers who alert us when they see a suspect vehicle."
In the normally peaceful villages around the area, gendarmes have also taken to stopping drivers and searching their vehicles for stolen truffles. France produces about 1,000 tonnes of black Périgord truffle each year – 45% of world production. About 80% of the truffles in France come from the south-east. The underground fungi sell for up to €1,200 a kilo in farmers' markets, but can fetch three times as much in shops in Paris.