Black truffles from Down Under conquer U.S. summertime menus

Tue Aug 12, 2014 8:27am EDT
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By Michael Y. Park

NEW YORK (Reuters) - From the truffle-infused beef-cheek ravioli at Babbo restaurant in New York to the all-black-truffle menu at La Toque in Napa Valley, California, the pungent mushroom has conquered the summer menu and is no longer just a treasured winter treat.

The black-truffle summer craze is the result of a confluence of events, some of which were decades in the making.

"It's a whole new ball game," said Ken Frank, La Toque's owner and chef. "Winter truffles in summertime are a game changer."

The rules of the summertime-truffle game started to change in the 1960s, when French researchers started to learn how to cultivate black, or Perigord, truffles outside their native habitat.

The most prized truffles come from southern France, northern Italy and northern Croatia, and are available only from December to the end of January. Other black-truffle varieties picked earlier are generally considered to be inferior in aroma and flavor.

In the 1990s researchers and farmers started growing black truffles in Tasmania, the Australian island state, to sell from June through August. But truffles are difficult to cultivate.

"It took our people seven years to grow our first truffle and 11 years to get a commercial crop," said Frank Brunacci, vice president of sales for Truffle & Wine Co., which owns a 40-hectare farm in western Australia.

In addition to growing problems, the Australians had to overcome American restaurateurs' reluctance to use non-European truffles.   Continued...

A truffle farmer sells his production during the truffle market in Sorges, southwestern France, in this December 17, 2006 file photo.  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Files