Truffles: The Most Expensive Food in the World

European white truffles sell for as much as $3,600 a pound, but harvests are down and a black market has emerged -- none of which has dampened the appetite for this prized fungi. Lesley Stahl reports.

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Urbani: No, they can't do anything. We can't do anything. You're always on the phone, many telephones, saying, "Sorry, sorry, I don't have, I don't have." I wish I had 100 tons a day to make everybody happy.

In France, the truffle is so revered that in the village of Uzes, a special mass is held in its honor. Churchgoers not only put money in the collection plate, they also add truffles. There's a reason for the special prayers: Because of climate change, the harvests are down from an annual haul of 2,000 tons of truffles 100 years ago, to just 30 tons today. The scarcity and high prices have attracted elements of organized crime who've turned the truffle trade into something resembling the drug trade.

Bruno: The reality is, behind the popularity of the truffle lies a dangerous world.

[Bruno: My house is your house.]

One of Europe's most famous truffle connoisseurs is the larger-than-life French chef and restaurateur known simply as Bruno.

Stahl: Is it like the Mafia?

Bruno: Yes.

Stahl: Really?

Bruno: Yes, it's a good name? Yes, the Mafia, yes. You understand? It's very dangerous for me.

At Bruno's restaurant, in the heart of Provence, wealthy Europeans helicopter in from Paris and Monaco, just to eat lunch. Bruno goes through about 5 tons of truffles a year, which his chefs shave on everything from potatoes to this amazing lobster dish.

But Bruno says the growing black market has led to people coming to his place not just to eat truffles, but to steal them.

Stahl: The robbers came and got your truffles?

Bruno: Yes, they stole 200 kilos of truffles.

Stahl: 200 kilos from you?

Bruno: They didn't steal my money! They stole my truffles!

Some of the stolen truffles, we were told, are brought to markets like this one in Richerenches where middle men sell out of the backs of cars or trucks. But large quantities change hands in back alleys.

We witnessed this transaction where the buyers and sellers wanted their identities hidden. In less than a minute, 50 pounds of truffles were exchanged for 30,000 euros - about $40,000 - with no questions asked about where the truffles came from.

Michel Tournayre: There's a problem of confidentiality and secrecy. And that encourages a Mafia-like attitude.

Michel Tournayre, a third generation truffle farmer, says that local trufflers have been car-jacked, beaten with baseball bats and even killed. Thieves came and stole his truffles, his trees and worse, his dogs.

Stahl: When they took your dogs, what did you do?