| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 12 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
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
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
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
"No one had thought of truffles coming from anywhere besides
from France or Italy," Brunacci said. "But now we don't have an
eight-month wait anymore."
In 2009, Truffle & Wine Co. sold 180 pounds (81 kilos) of
black truffles to the United States, Brunacci said. This year
U.S. sales rose to more than 700 pounds, and around 11,000
pounds globally. The company supplies black truffles to about
250 American restaurants a week during the summer, including La
"Last year was the first year out of 17 that we made a
profit out of truffles," Brunacci said.
Improvements in technology have made distribution and
shipping easier. Dino Borri, head buyer for the food market
chain Eataly, which only sells European truffles, said the
delicacy can now be shipped anywhere in the United States.
"You used to have to buy and consume a truffle more or less
in the same day. Now you could maintain a fresh truffle for
about a week," he said.
Americans are also ready for truffles, which once evoked
images of snooty French waiters.
"In the last two to three years, the next generation of
foodies has come of age," he said. "They've become pretty
For truffle fanatics, the next step is to make the more
expensive white truffle available in summer. But so far attempts
Frank is skeptical that farmed white truffles will ever be
"Too many stars have to line up in a row for white
truffles," he said. "It's the holy grail, for sure."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Leslie Adler)