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They come from a land down under

An Antipodean truffle / Craig Kinder

An Antipodean truffle / Craig Kinder

Of all the unexpected places to find black truffles, Australia might be the strangest / Amber Gibson

In an oasis of softly rolling farmland dotted with oak and hazelnut trees, the Labradors are at work. Snuffling through an orchard, they diligently scour the ground for delicious morsels they won’t even get to eat. Human harvesters follow close behind, gently unearthing truffles from cracks near the roots of trees and determining by aroma if they are ready for harvest. These will sell internationally—sometimes for thousands of dollars—to some of the most important chefs and food purveyors on Earth. It’s a saga that’s been going on in Europe since at least the days of the Roman Empire. And that’s what makes it so surprising that this particular orchard, belonging to the Truffle & Wine Co., is located in Western Australia.

Opened in 1997, the Truffle & Wine Co. is capitalizing on Europe’s misfortune: Black truffle production has decreased there over the past few decades due to climate change and pollution. In France, truffles are mixed grade and traded through a secretive system, which makes it easy for unscrupulous dealers to sneak lesser-quality truffles from other countries into the pantries of top chefs.
Western Australia, meanwhile, is home to the same species of truffle found in France, the Périgord, or black truffle, plus rich red soil and a sunny Mediterranean climate that’s ideal for growing them. More than 50 truffle orchards have popped up there in the last decade, and so far, chefs are impressed. “The consistent quality coming out of Australia is nearly perfect. The perfume is astounding,” says chef Ken Frank, of Napa Valley’s La Toque, who has been serving a black truffle menu for 32 years. “They were every bit as good as the best European truffles that we get.”

What’s more, because French Périgord season runs from December to March, while in Australia it’s late May through August, Australian truffles extend the season for freshness, offering Northern Hemisphere chefs more pairing opportunities. Top toques like Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) and Umberto Bombana (of Hong Kong’s 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana) have started pairing truffles with a bounty of summer produce, including sweet corn, ramps and asparagus.

“Usually, when you’re pairing something with truffles, you think of dark, rich flavors,” says Curtis Duffy, chef at Chicago’s Grace restaurant. “Now, for the first time, we can pair a truffle with a green flavor profile, like asparagus fresh out of the ground. That opens a whole area of creative use.” One of Duffy’s most popular dishes last summer, for instance, featured Australian black truffle with green strawberries and sorrel. “We paired something very dirty on the palate with clean, bright, fruity flavors,” he says.

Duffy says he has been using Aussie truffles for several years and that the flavor and aroma just keep getting better. “Now they surpass the French truffles,” he says. In fact, French chefs themselves have started to order Australian Périg- ords. France is Australia’s third largest truffle export market, after the United States and Japan, and chefs like Benjamin Bruno at truffle-centric Restaurant Bruno in Lorgues have been willing to shell out twice the price for delicacies from Down Under. Says the Truffle & Wine Co. CEO Gavin Booth, “It’s like selling ice to Eskimos.”

fooddrink2Gin Blossoms

The popular spirit evolves / Elaine Glusac

The makers of some hot new gins have four words for spirits purists: Let them drink Tanqueray. These folks, you see, are boldly going where few have gone before, creating gins flavored with local herbs, flowers and tree bits to capture the local flavors of their respective distilleries. These new gins still contain juniper, of course, but it’s the other flavors that make them exciting. Take Terroir Gin by St. George Spirits, which evokes the coastal forest near San Francisco by adding sage, Douglas fir needles and bay laurel leaves, or Spy Hop Gin, from San Juan Island Distillery in the Pacific Northwest, which incorporates blackberries, wild roses and foraged tree barks. Thirty locally sourced desert botanicals, including white sage, osha root and cholla cactus flowers, go into Wheeler’s Gin, from Santa Fe Spirits in New Mexico. “People call us when the cactuses bloom,” says owner Colin Keegan. Here, he offers a recipe for his very own cocktail.

——

Colin’s Collins

  • 2 oz. Wheeler’s gin
  • 4 oz. Soda water
  • ½ oz. Rose’s lime juice
  • ¼ oz. Luxardo cherry juice

Pour all ingredients into a Collins glass with ice. Stir. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry and a lime wheel.

Mother India’s dosa with chutney / Getty Images

Mother India’s dosa with chutney / Getty Images

Naan-native

How a Scottish city became India North / Sue Lawrence

When one goes on a journey to taste great Indian food, one thinks of the greats: Delhi, Kerala, Mumbai … Glasgow? Yet it’s true, the misty Scottish city is one of the better places on Earth to eat Indian food. It all started in the late 1940s, when, after India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain, many subcontinentals emigrated to the U.K. With Scotland’s chilly weather and natural larder of lamb and fish, it wasn’t long before heavy, spicy Indian stews ruled the restaurant scene there.

Since then, Glasgow has won the title Curry Capital of Britain more times than any other place in the U.K. In 2009, the government even backed an application for Protected Designation of Origin for chicken tikka masala, which supporters argued was created in Glasgow in the ’70s (the request was tabled after a counterargument from India). These days, “over 50 percent of Glasgow’s population eats a curry at least once a week,” Lord Provost Councillor of Glasgow Sadie Docherty has said.

One of the stalwarts in the perennial competition for the best Indian food in Glasgow is the restaurant Mother India, which opened in 1996 and spun off a branch in Edinburgh in 2008. The restaurant offers a tapas-style menu full of treats so delectable that a recent visitor was compelled to proclaim that he would “probably murder someone for their butter chicken.”

 In addition to that dish, which includes tender chopped chicken in a rich tomato- and butter-based sauce with whole almonds, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and chili, locals have become enamored of a dish closer to their own history: a foil-wrapped haddock, baked with tomatoes and punjabi spices.

Bartender Rene Hidalgo at Lantern’s Keep; below: the Stonecutter Highball / Jeff Quinn

Bartender Rene Hidalgo at Lantern’s Keep; below: the Stonecutter Highball / Jeff Quinn

Good Stuff If You Can Get It

When they can’t import it, bartenders resort to making their own amer / Chadner Navarro

With punches and complex cocktails enjoying worldwide popularity and ads for Fernet-Branca popping up in magazines, you could be forgiven for thinking we’re living in a nouveau belle epoque. The stars of this new age of drinking are bitter liqueurs—the Camparis and Aperols, the Italian digestifs known as amaros—but there is one that few outside of France have ever tasted: the elusive amer.

Developed as a digestif in the 1830s, amer can come in many flavors but is usually a delicate, bittersweet cordial with a light orange flavor. After Prohibition drove it near to extinction stateside, however, it has become next to impossible to find, which has made it a sort of holy grail for American mixologists. There are alternatives, but for most, the only way to approximate the taste is to make it themselves.

Rene Hidalgo, head mixologist at Lantern’s Keep, a French salon–style bar in New York City’s Iroquois Hotel, is one such ambitious bartender. Last year, he undertook the task of
recreating the spirit from scratch, adding earthy plants such as gentian root, cinchona bark and a medley of herbs to a base of sweet oranges and a neutral grain spirit. To ensure that his version
measured up to the amer he’d read about in cocktail history books, Hidalgo performed a side-by-side sampling with a French amer provided by a similarly cocktails-obsessed friend. By the end of the year, the elusive spirit began to make appearances at Lantern’s Keep, in cocktails like the Stonecutter Highball, a gin and tonic with amer and muddled cucumber. “It’s the number one drink on the menu,” says Hidalgo. “Everyone loves it.”

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