PARIS: Never let it be said that Gallic gastronomes would allow either an economic crisis or thieves to get in the way of their seasonal delicacy.
As the price of the rare Tuber melanosporum - otherwise known as the truffle - rocketed to €1200 ($1500) a kilogram, producers have called in gendarmes to protect their valuable harvest.
Officers of the military force are patrolling the production areas in the Drome in south-east France and have also 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 Christmas and new year meals.
''Every year, around 15 days from Christmas, the prices soar as people want truffles for their seasonal preparations. It's also the time when the thieves hit our plantations,'' one truffle producer told Le Parisien.
Veronique Fauvier, captain of the gendarmerie at Nyons, at the 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 past two years we have worked with the truffle producers who alert us when they see a suspect vehicle.''
In the normally peaceful villages, gendarmes have also taken to stopping drivers and searching their vehicles.
France produces about 1000 tonnes of what is known as black Perigord truffle each year, 45 per cent of world production. About 80 per cent of the truffles in France come from the south-east. They sell for up to €1200 at farmers' markets, but can fetch three times as much in Paris.
Guardian News & Media