Robb Report Vices

Winter Meets Summer

It used to be that truffle aficionados living north of the equator had to wait until the fall and early parts of the winter for white truffles to arrive from Europe, and then wait again until the first few months of the year to enjoy European black truffles when they were in season. Because of that, seasonal pairings were predictable—not that anyone is going to complain about hearty, unctuous comfort food accented by earthy and fragrant fresh truffles. But now, thanks to the folks at Truffle and Wine Co. in Western Australia (the largest producer of black truffles in the Southern Hemisphere), the United States’ best chefs are enhancing their summer offerings with what used to be winter-only indulgences.

“It’s exciting to have great truffles anytime,” says Ken Frank, executive chef at La Toque in Napa, Calif. “[In the past] you’d get summer truffles, but they just don’t have the same magic, they’re just not as special. Now that we have winter truffles to play with here in the summer with peas and corn and morel mushrooms, it opens up a whole new range of opportunities.

“We’re just beginning to learn about what works with truffles,” he continues, “because in January we’re thinking about different things than we are in July. We’re finding a lot of affinity with peas and beans. There’s a natural sweetness and an earthy flavor there and they tend to play really nice with truffles.”

One of Frank’s favorite summer truffle dishes is a carefully roasted guinea hen with truffle shavings tucked under the skin. It’s served with a salad of crushed roasted potato and romano beans accented with chopped fresh truffle and top-shelf olive oil. “It’s one of the simplest things that we do,” the chef explains. “Guinea hen is what chicken should taste like, and as it cooks, the truffle flavor infuses right into the hen.”

What’s more, Frank explains, in some ways Australian black truffles offer something the European ones cannot. The winter truffle market is a big business in Europe, he says, which makes it harder for him to know what he’s getting and where he’s getting it from. By contrast, Truffle and Wine Co. is the only large player in the Australian industry, involved in every aspect of cultivation and distribution. “The quality of these truffles,” says Frank, “they’re every bit as good as the European truffles that we get. It’s really impressive. The quality and consistency is remarkable.”

La Toque’s summer black-truffle offerings will be available until mid-August. But if you can’t make it to Napa by then, here’s a list of other restaurants that are celebrating Australia’s truffle harvest:

In Los Angeles: Mélisse, Café del Rey, République

In Chicago: Grace, RPM

In New York: Beautique, Per Se

In Miami: 1826