From discovery to flavor, Hungary's truffles add a mystery touch

Thu Aug 14, 2014 3:26pm EDT
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By Gergely Szakacs

JASZIVANY Hungary (Reuters) - Fallen branches crack under Istvan Bagi's muddy boots as he paces through a damp forest in the morning mist, tracking his trusty black Labrador on another outing for truffles, a coveted underground fungus some call the "diamond of the kitchen".

It was in this 44-hectare (110 acre) oak forest that a colleague earlier this year unearthed a summer truffle weighing 1.28 kg (2.8 lb) - the biggest of its kind yet found in Hungary.

"It was the size of a baby's head," Bagi said.

"There is a sense of mystery around this, which benefits us producers, that we search for the truffles in the woods and in many cases even the locations are secret," he said.

Clad in rubber boots, khaki trousers and a shirt, Bagi said Hungary, like southern neighbors Romania and Bulgaria, is a big regional producer of summer truffles, picked in a lengthy period from mid-June to December.

In Western Europe, France is a leading truffle producer, with truffles also found in Italy and Spain.

Wholesale prices for Hungarian truffles range from 60 euros ($80) to 300 euros ($400) per kilo, said the 39-year-old Bagi, who has been involved in the trade for nearly two decades. Prices can rise to as much as 200 to 400 euros in the autumn, when output falls, he said.

With local demand low, the Agriculture Ministry says nearly all truffles found in Hungary are exported, mainly to Italy, Germany and the United States, but increasingly also to Asia.   Continued...

Istvan Bagi's dog Mokka, a six-year-old Labrador, searches for truffles in a forest near Jaszivany, east of Budapest August 6, 2014.   REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo