Could nature and science have concocted a perfect recipe for success? Spain has officially dethroned France, becoming the world’s top producer of black truffles, a coveted culinary jewel.
In 2023, Spain harvested over 100 tons of cultivated black truffles, accounting for 60 per cent of the world’s supply.
This achievement is not by chance; it’s the result of years of dedicated effort combining the forces of nature and scientific research. Particularly in Catalonia, a region responsible for a third of Spain’s fresh truffle exports, the focus has been on transforming the truffle from a gastronomic luxury into a sustainable crop.
With over 600 hectares allocated to truffle cultivation in 2022, the majority in Lleida but also extending to areas within Barcelona and Tarragona, Spain’s leadership in truffle production is clear.
The science behind the success
‘The cultivation of this product is being promoted, among other reasons, to the fact that the wild species has experienced a progressive decline in recent times because it rains less.
‘Above all, because the forests are now less cared for and are denser… And that does not favour the truffle, which needs clear spaces to develop,’ explains Daniel Oliach, a researcher at the Forest Science and Technology Centre of Catalonia (CTFC) and a truffle specialist.
Economic impact and export
In 2022, Spain’s truffle cultivation generated over €25 million from exports, with the main markets being France and Italy.
The sector, deeply rooted in regions such as Teruel, Lleida, Huesca, Valencia, Soria, and Tarragona, provides between 5,000 and 7,000 jobs, showcasing its significance beyond gastronomy.
Despite Spain’s prowess in production, domestic consumption remains low, a trend attributed to cultural dining preferences rather than availability.
Cultivating demand and culinary excellence
Efforts to boost local consumption face challenges, primarily due to the high cost of truffles. ‘It is true that a kilo of truffle costs approximately €200, but you have to keep in mind that when you go to buy you never take a kilo of black truffle, at most you buy about 40 grams,’ Oliach notes, emphasising the importance of consumer education in appreciating and integrating truffles into everyday cuisine.
The city of Vic, with its historic market setting the national price for black truffles, recently showcased Catalonia’s truffle prowess through the TrufforumVic event. This event highlighted the potential for chefs and culinary experts to influence truffle consumption trends.
Spain’s ascendancy in the black truffle market is a testament to the harmonious blend of environmental stewardship and scientific innovation.
As Spain continues to export the majority of its truffle harvest, there remains a vast opportunity to cultivate a domestic appetite for this exquisite fungus, potentially opening new avenues for economic and culinary enrichment.