French farmer arrested for 'fatally shooting trespasser looking to steal highly coveted truffles'
A French farmer has been arrested after he allegedly fatally shot a trespasser he believed was trying to steal his highly coveted truffles.
The 32-year-old told police that he was guarding his truffle patch when the intruder, who he thought was armed, came on to his land on the edge of France's southern Provence region.
He explained yesterday that he was frightened by the trespasser and shot him in the legs and head with a hunting rifle.
Highly coveted: The 32-year-old farmer fatally shot a man he believed was trying to steal his truffles (stock image)
The 43-year-old victim died shortly after Monday's shooting in the commune of Grignan, but authorities have not yet released the names of the two men.
Truffles are a fungus found mainly in forests in France and Italy that grow underground, in the root systems of host trees.
They are prized for their rich, earthy flavours and can fetch astronomical prices, making them a prime target for thieves.
Didier Chabert, a local truffle-grower who has known the accused farmer for many years, said the man had already been hit by thieves two or three times this truffle season, which runs from December through March.
'At this time of year, the thieves are waiting for the moon to grow so there is light at night, the thief comes at that time to steal truffles,' Mr Chabert said.
Astronomical prices: Truffles are highly sought after delicacies, especially at this time of year. Here a truffle-hunter forages (stock image)
French forests produce 50 tons of black truffles in a good year, but poor weather caused last year's harvest to drop to 25 tons, said Mr Chabert, the former head of the local truffle-growers association.
Demand for truffles peaks at Christmas time, when the French traditionally splurge on delicacies such as truffles, champagne, foie gras, prawns and oysters.
Last year black truffle prices reached £400 a pound due to the shortage, Mr Chabert said. The current price is just under £350 a pound.
The head of another truffle sellers association said the problem of truffle theft has been growing.
'In the past month, everyone around here has been robbed,' said Michel Meille. 'We went to the local officials and the police, but nothing was done.'
Mr Meille said thieves have no trouble fencing the stolen tubers. 'It's all done under the table,' he said.
Mr Chabert said his truffle patch is a mile-and-a-half away from the accused farmer's.
He inspects it every morning for truffle thieves' tell-tale footprints, but so far he hasn't caught one. He says he wishes his neighbour had come to him for help.
'If we were two or three to watch the truffles there wouldn't be this problem,' Mr Chabert added.
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