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Tue, Aug 22, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Woods teeming with truffles delight UK gourmands

RICH PICKINGS UK truffle sellers are not sure why the fungus, which sells for almost US$250 per kilogram, is in abundance this year, but some suspect global warming


They are one of the least promising-looking delicacies in the world, sniffed out by pigs in rural corners of Europe, sold for thousands of dollars and prized above almost every other foodstuff by gourmands. They are also -- in a more humble, native form -- lurking in record numbers in British woodlands.

The UK appears to be experiencing a bumper harvest of the native summer, or Burgundy, truffle at a time when other crops in the south have been wilting through a heatwave and drought.

"We seem to have an apparent abundance," said Nigel Hadden-Paton, a truffle expert who had a sensationally successful day last week searching for culinary gold in a wood at a secret location.

He suggested that rich pickings are to be had in soils scattered between Dorset in southwest England and Darlington in the northeast.

"It's extraordinary," he said. "It may be something to do with global warming but I just don't know. It may be a flush lasting two or three weeks and that will be it."

Hadden-Paton runs Truffle UK, a company which cultivates truffles and imports them from France, Italy and Croatia.

"The percentage of the population of Britain that eats truffles is minuscule and I'm trying to reverse that trend because truffles are here under our feet in our copses and woods," he said.

The British fungus sells for ?130 (US$246) a kilo, compared with last season's cost of an Italian tuber magnatum (?2,000 a kilo) or Perigord tuber melanosporum (up to ?1,000 a kilo).

"Because it is less favored, the price of the truffle found in Britain is lower," Hadden-Paton said. "If you were to put the three truffles side by side and had risottos made, they would all taste different.

"The summer truffle found in Britain is a much more ... delicate flavor but I would not say it is better or worse. We need to educate people's palates and get them used to our indigenous truffle," he said.

The British truffle is also easier to find: continental varieties lurk several centimeters underground as they search for water, but the native truffle often breaks through the surface, even if it can be mistaken at first sight for dog excrement.

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