Fungus Thieves Fake Italian Police Stage Highway Truffle Robbery

The price of white truffles is surging because fewer of them are being found after an unusually hot summer in northern Italy this year. That may explain why robbers went to the trouble of dressing up as policemen to steal 400 grams -- worth €2,000 -- of the cherished delicacy from a collector.

Almost worth their weight in gold: white truffles.

Almost worth their weight in gold: white truffles.

An Italian truffle hunter has been robbed on his way to the market by thieves posing as police officers who relieved him of 400 grams of freshly collected white truffles worth €2,000.

Dario Pastrone, 58, had spent Friday and Saturday night in the wooded valleys around Chiusano collecting the prized delicacy and was driving to a truffle market in Asti when another car forced him off the road, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Three men dressed as police officers jumped out, opened his trunk and stole the truffles. The price of truffles has risen to as much as €8,000 ($11,500) this year, almost half the price of gold.

The white truffle, like the French black truffle, is highly sought after. European truffle hunters have historically employed female pigs to look for them because the smell of truffles is similar to that of a male pig's sex hormones.

However, dogs are increasingly being used because it is easier to train them than pigs which often just eat the truffles when they find them.

The long dry summer in the Piedmont region of Italy where white truffles grow has dried up the soil, and collectors say the number of truffles found this year is likely to be down to less than half the 2006 level. That has led to a surge in truffle prices.

The truffle is a fungus which grows on the roots of oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees.



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