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The Langham Auckland secures the Countrys Most Prized Fungus - the New Zealand Truffle

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The Langham Auckland has secured some of the countrys first and most prized fungus for the 2008 season: The New Zealand truffle.

At an estimated $3,500 per kg this year, truffles are like gold to New Zealands keenest foodies and have a place in gastronomy alongside saffron, caviar and foie gras.

As with any prized and valuable commodity, the process of successfully securing New Zealand truffles has been compared to a ransom negotiation. One: There is no negotiation. Two: Those with the goods need to protect their location and commodity. Three: There will be no truffle-talking until a level of trust has been established.

For a restaurant such as Partingtons, sourcing their share of New Zealands 20kg truffle industry means persevering, sometimes for years, to earn the trust of the grower then proving that you are worthy of the produce. Because of demand, price is not negotiated; if you wont pay the price, someone else will.

The Langhams executive chef Ofir Yudilevich said, You can absolutely understand a truffiere wanting to protect their location and product. Each truffiere produces only a small amount. The last thing they want is to have someone digging in their back yard beating them to it and they want to know that their prized product is going to be enjoyed in the best possible way.

Demand far exceeds supply for several reasons:

- For truffles to grow a trees roots must be infected with the truffle fungus for anywhere between 5-15 years before truffles grow

- Truffles require specific requirements to grow, typically: warmers summers and cooler winters, alkaline soils (between 7.5 9) rich in calcium carbonate with good aeration and drainage

- The presence of other trees with competing fungi was stop/reduce production

- Even if everything goes right, animals and insects are also huge fans of truffles and often get in first

There are currently more than 100 truffieres in New Zealand however only nine are expected to produce truffles this year.

Food-lovers eager to sample New Zealand truffles can order from a special truffle menu The Langhams signature restaurant Partingtons has created. The menu includes the traditional French truffle dish Tournedos Rossini along with delicacies such as crayfish tortellini and wild mushroom risotto.

Once the customer has chosen their dish from the truffle menu, they then select how strong they want the truffle flavour to be by choosing to have either 5 or 10 grams grated over the dish at an additional NZ$45 and NZ$80 respectively, Ofir said.

What makes the truffle so special? According to Ofir, Its hard to explain but once you try them youll want them all the time. I think the difficulty of trying to define what makes them so special is part of their appeal.

They have a very distinctive aroma and taste. Id describe their perfume as rather pungent but in an exotic way. Ive also heard the aroma compared to chocolate, wet forests, deep-fried sunflower seeds and walnuts. Their flavour is spicy and woody with a hint of hazelnut and black radish, he added.

The Truffle

Production of truffles is almost exclusively European, with France accounting for 45%, Spain 35%, and Italy 20% of all harvests. The first black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) to be produced in the southern hemisphere were grown in Gisborne in 1993. Truffle production in New Zealand began with the aim of supplying to the Northern Hemisphere. To date however, they are so scarce that New Zealand producers are not yet able to satisfy our own market.

Truffle (Tuber Melanosporum) is a fungus that produces its fruiting bodies under the surface of the soil growing on and around the roots of Hazelnut, English Oak, and Holly Oak trees. These bodies have a black outer skin (not unlike an avocado) with a purple black flesh with fine veins. Unlike other mushrooms which grow above the ground and spread their spores in the wind, truffles produce a smell which entices animals to dig them up, spreading the spores in the process.

Truffles grow best in limestone rich alkaline soil and a climate similar to that found in the hills to the south of the Massif Central in France (which is why they also grow well in New Zealand). 

The highest price ever paid for a New Zealand truffle was NZ$9000 per kilo, but a typical price is around NZ$3700 per kilo. The world's most expensive truffle weighed 1.51 kilograms and was sold for 125,000 Euros on 13 November 2006 to Hong Kong property tycoon Sir Gordon Wu.

Current Prigord black truffle production in France is estimated to total less than 100 tonnes, with this scarcity driving up prices worldwide. It is estimated New Zealand production of truffles is 20 kilograms per year.

The first mention of truffles appears in the writings of Theophrastus in the fourth century BC. In classical times their origins were a mystery which challenged many; Plutarch and others thought them the result of lightning,

The New Zealand truffle season is expected to last just 8-12 weeks.

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