December 06

Christmas is rushing up, as are various deadlines (including one for the next book), but this item from the Washington Post is worth a read. It describes the rounds of a French truffle inspector - an official charged with ensuring that what's being sold as Tuber melanosporum is the real thing, and not Chinese (or anything else). It also includes some interesting information on recent French harvests - badly hit by heat and drought.

"Shrinking supply is also driving up prices. Over the past four seasons, truffle production in Provence has plummeted 70 percent, from 33,000 pounds harvested in the winter of 2002 to 9,680 pounds last year, according to ministry records. Truffle production nationwide last year was about 74,000 pounds, half the yields of a decade ago. Neighboring Italy and Spain also report diminished truffle yields because of dry weather. The harvests are decreasing dramatically," said Michel Courvoisier, who heads the French Federation of Truffle Producers. It's mostly due to climate changes. We've had recurring droughts in the past five years, which had a terrible effect on truffles."

Meanwhile, retailers seem keen to get hold of whatever truffle is available:

"Valayer bent over a mound of dirt-covered truffles that ranged in size from walnuts to softballs. He separated the specimens gnawed by rats, softened by fly larvae, munched by caterpillars or waterlogged by wet ground. He cut away the damaged sections and tossed the salvaged chips into a bin for canning. A half-ounce container of such leftovers was selling for $30 last week at Fauchon, the fancy Paris-based food emporium."

Spare me the rats. I have quite enough mice as it is.

It's taken me a while to get round to it, but I have updated my comparison of Ken Ring's November rainfall and sunshine forecasts for New Zealand's four biggest cities to the actual figures, as recorded by NIWA. His rainfall forecasts are woeful. He gets Dunedin more or less right, and the other three completely wrong. On the other hand, his figures for sunshine are much better, and I can give him four "hits" there. So five out of eight for the month - slightly better than 50 percent - better than usual - but still no real evidence for forecast skill. I'll update with December's figures in January, and then post my conclusions. Regular readers may have guessed that's he's unlikely to do well. And I have to say I've missed our occasional exchanges on the NZ "Climate Science Coalition" web site, which no longer allows comments. They were swamped by automated comment spam, but seemed to think they were being picked on by Gore supporters. Says a great deal about their perspective on life...

Interesting insight on selling truffles to restaurants in New York, from the New York Times (registration may be required):

"Mr. Magazino opened a plastic foam cooler and pulled out the truffles, which had been sorted by size. The smallest, called first choice, range from the size of chestnuts to the size of plums. The medium-size “extras” can be as large as a tangerine, and the big-daddy “supers” can be as big as a baby’s head, though that day they were closer to an avocado’s dimensions. Mr. Magazino handed a cooler of caviar to his intern, Alex Zambelli, then grabbed the $30,000 worth of truffles, along with a stainless steel kitchen scale, and lugged them into the kitchen. (Rule No. 1: never take your eyes off the truffles.) Like most chefs, Shea Gallante reached right for the supers, fondling and sniffing each one. “The bigger ones aren’t any better than the smaller guys in terms of aroma or taste, but they make a better presentation in the dining room,” Mr. Magazino explained, inhaling the musky, funky, earthy, pungently cheesy scent of an extra that had the shape of a fingerling."

Give me a baby's head any day. Reminds me of some sage advice - "never eat anything larger than your head". And I never have...