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Sun 23 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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White truffle prices collapse

The wealthy pare back on luxuries and charity as the global economic slowdown continues to bite.

White truffles prices collapsed as the wealthy pare back on luxuries amid the global economic crisis.

An 850-gramme white truffle from northern Italy sold for 24,000 euros ($30,900) at the 10th Annual World Alba White Truffle Auction in Tokyo last week. By weight, that's 84 percent less than the $330,000 Macau casino billionaire Stanley Ho paid for a 1.5 kilogramme truffle last year.

The auction, held simultaneously in Tokyo and the Italian towns of Grinzane Cavour and Merano, raised a combined 118,000 euros for various charities, including the United Way and victims of the September bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. A similar charity auction last year raised $453,000.

"The financial crisis has definitely had an impact,'' Bruno Libralon, president of Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, arranger of the three auctions, said in an interview in Tokyo. "It's sad because it means less money going for charities.''

The winning bidder, Kazumasa Terada, founder and president of handbag retailer Samantha Thavasa Japan Ltd., said he will have a chef prepare half the truffle for a private dinner and give the other half to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the auction's Tokyo venue.

"It's my first time to buy a truffle,'' Terada, 42, said in an interview. "I'll have a party for my friends; this truffle is probably enough for fifty people.''

Terada's 65 percent stake in Samantha Terada is worth about 5 billion yen ($50.5m). The value of his holdings has dropped about 69 percent this year.

White truffles are intensely aromatic and grated over dishes raw, unlike black truffles, which are generally cooked to bring out the full flavor.

The credit crunch, sparked by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in the US has led to losses and writedowns of almost $700bn at financial companies.

A stock sell-off last month wiped out more than $9.5 trillion in equity value worldwide.

The Tokyo auction attracted about 110 people including Akebono, a former Sumo Yokozuna, or grand champion, who bid unsuccessfully for one of five truffles sold on-site and Shizuka Arakawa, an Olympic gold medalist figure skater, who didn't bid at all.

Other bidders included local restaurateur Elio Orsara, who bought a 226-gramme truffle for 775,000 yen.

The 850-gramme fungus was flown from Italy to Japan last week.

This article is courtesy of Bloomberg.

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