When Brillat-Savarin, the famed French 18th century gastronome and philosopher of the culinary life called the black truffles of the Perigord region of France "the diamonds of the kitchen" he was simply following a long historical line of those who considered these tubers among the most delicate of all foods. The first known mention of black truffles is found as long ago as 20 centuries BCE when the ancient Sumerians praised the dining habits of their Amorite enemies. The ancient Greeks thought them to be a gift from the gods and Mohammed considered truffles to be the manna that God sent to the Israelites while they were traveling through Sinai. Mythology and folkore aside, black truffles, prized for their use in haute cuisine are so highly valued that they are currently selling for about 3900 Euros per kilo.
Indeed, the earthy flavor of truffles is unmatched by any other food. Grown wild only in the shade of oak trees the truffles of Perigord are so highly valued that thieves armed with the pigs and beagles that sniff them out make nighttime raids on truffle fields. With the harvest season in late December, Laurent Rambaud, a farmer and property owner is now on trial shooting and killing a suspected truffle thief.
To the great sadness of the lovers of the good life, the truffle harvest has been on a steady decline since 1900 when about 1000 tons were harvested to a mere 20 tons during the current harvest. Some go as far as to speculate that truffle will become extinct in less than 20 years. One can speculate that no one mourns this possible loss more than world renowned chef Alain Ducasse who wrote that "the charm of the truffle links spiruality with the eroticism of the senses"
No one is quite certain whether the decreasing truffle harvest is due to changes in temperature and rain patterns (truffles require light summer rains and must be harvested before the heavier rains of winter when they rot) or that a great many truffle fields are being replaced by highways ahd shopping centers. What is known is that fewer farmers follow the time honored tradition of hunting truffles with pigs or beagles and that the children of those farmers are moving from the country to the cities.
As to the truest value of the Perigord truffle, in his Las Vegas restaurant Fleur, chef Hubert Keller offers a $5000 hamburger, the burger made from kobe beef and topped with truffle slices that have been cooked in a demi-glace sauce. It should be noted that the price includes a bottle of the remarkable 1995 wine of Chateau Petrus. The price also includes a side-order of chips.
The black truffle may, like the dinosaur, make its way into history but one need not fear for the white truffles of the Piedmont region of Italy, no less highly valued and no less expensive, are doing just fine, the harvest booming at this time. As to price, the highest price ever paid for a single white truffle was paid in December 2007 when Stanley Ho, the owner of a casino on the island of Macau paid 165,000 Euros for a single Piedmont truffle weighing in at 1.5 kilograms. As to the white truffles found in the Negev dessert, most agree that these are at best poor imitations of those of Perigord or Piedmont.