Not content with beating the French at winemaking, Australia is now muscling in on another hallowed Gallic tradition - truffle growing. The Australians claim that their truffles are bigger, juicier and tastier than those produced in France, just as their Cabernet Sauvignons and Shiraz are touted as richer and smoother. Since the first tentative attempts to grow the prized black truffle in Tasmania in the 1990s, there are now truffle orchards in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. They have been planted in areas which most closely mimic France's hot, dry summers and cold, rainy winters. Although Australia only produced 50kg of 'black gold' last year, compared with the four tonnes which were grown in France, the industry is developing rapidly. Growing the aromatic delicacy artificially is a notoriously tricky business, but the returns are potentially enormous, especially at A$3,000 (HK$16,000) a kilogram. Plans to export Australian truffles to restaurants in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and even Paris may have French purists sniffing with indignation, but Australian producers say they can take advantage of the difference in seasons between the hemispheres. While French truffles are gathered from December to February, Australia's truffle season officially began this week. 'So far we haven't been at loggerheads because we are producing truffles at different times of the year,' said truffle consultant Nick Malajczuk, who works on mainland Australia's biggest truffle orchard, near the timber town of Manjimup in Western Australia. 'It's not going to be like the wine industry - we are not going to be dumping huge quantities of truffles on the market,' he said. As in France, the Australians use specially trained dogs to sniff out the truffles, which grow on tree roots. Trees are planted after being infected with the tuber melanosporum fungus, which produces the elusive French black truffle. And any suggestion that the truffles produced in Australian orchards are inferior to those rooted out of the oak forests of Perigord and Provence is swiftly dismissed. 'They are identical in appearance and taste,' said Wally Edwards, from the Wine and Truffle Company, south of Perth. 'The only difference is that ours are bigger.'