In his sprawling 1725 gastronomic compendium The Physiology of Taste, French author Brillat-Savarin didn’t hold back when it came to his treatment of the notorious truffle: “Whosoever pronounces the word la truffe… gives voice to erotic and gastronomical dreams.” Prized for their rich and unparalleled flavor, truffles grace the menus of the world’s most prestigious eateries and restaurants. However, these pungent tubers are infamously difficult to farm and, as a result, extremely scarce, as director Jack Laurance discovered with this, his latest film.
While shooting in Périgord, in the south west of France, Laurance uncovered an “intense paranoia and fear [that] seems to permeate” the tight-knit community whose livelihoods depend on the black ‘diamond’ truffle. The discovery of a body, and the kidnap of a prized truffle-hunting dog, shed light on the dark reality of a foodstuff whose delicious flavor hides a bitterness that goes right to the core of the trade.
Appropriately enough, the bulbous, soot-black ingredient known as the truffle grows only in the shadow of Hazelnut trees, and must be sniffed-out by specially trained dogs under careful observation from human cultivators. Due to their scarcity—and immense value—the black truffle has encouraged a nefarious trade to blossom around it, as mysterious as the aromatic fungi themselves. And in this way, Brillat-Savarin’s truffle dreams can easily become truffle nightmares.
Laurance, whose film unearths the dark underbelly of rural truffle farming, quickly discovered that an air of reverential mystery pervades its cultivation. “The film is actually the product of a recce me and my producer Marie-Cecile went on a few months back,” explains the London-based director. Participants were often reluctant to appear on film, for fear their identity would be given away—and their precious crop raided in the depths of night. “I’d been reading stories about the darker side of truffle farming, where their scarcity and value has sadly compelled some people to do terrible things.”
Laurence’s time in Périgord served up a similar experience. “From the local gendarmerie, to paranoid farmers and secretive wholesalers, the world of the truffle is shrouded in mystery.” The murder of a local man, Ernest Prado, during an alleged truffle raid, was just the beginning: “As we started exploring the backdrop of truffle culture against which this tragedy was set, everything seemed to be underscored by a curious tension.”