French gendarmerie hunt out truffle thieves
Gendarmes called in to protect plantations as prices for the prized black fungus soar
Never let it be said that Gallic gastronomes would allow an economic crisis or thieves to get in the way of their seasonal delicacy.
As the price of the rare Tuber melanosporum - the black truffle - rocketed to €1,200 (HK$12,300) a kilo, producers called in gendarmes to protect their valuable harvest.
The military force is patrolling production areas in the Drome in south-east France and have reportedly set up roadblocks to search cars for stolen fungi.
Several thieves have been arrested, say 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 festive 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 told Le Parisien newspaper.
Veronique Fauvier, captain of the gendarmerie at Nyons, in the truffle-bearing 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 past two years we have worked with the truffle producers who alert us when they see a suspect vehicle."
France produces about 1,000 metric tonnes of black Perigord truffle each year, 45 per cent of world production.