What’s a truffle? Do they grow locally? How do you find them? Do you use a pig?
When I tell guests that I hunt truffles, these are inevitably the questions that shortly follow. The world of truffles intrigues them and it’s not every day that you meet a truffle hunter. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the world of mushrooms and (later) truffles so it still takes me by surprise at how mysterious the topic is for most people.
What is a truffle?
You could say that a truffle “like a mushroom that grows underground.” Mushrooms and truffles are both fungus and grow from spores. However, the similarities end there for the most part. A mushroom’s flavor does not change from the moment it fruits until the moment of harvest. No matter the size or maturity, it tastes the same. Not so with truffles. A truffle must ripen, more like an avocado, before it can be enjoyed to its fullest. Ideally, it will ripen while still in the ground.
Do they grow locally?
Yes. The Oregon white and black truffle grows from northern California through British Columbia. Western Oregon has the greatest concentration. I often gesture to surrounding hillsides to indicate where I, personally, harvest truffles.
How do you find them? Do you use a pig?
No, I do not use a pig. That tradition has mostly given way to dogs. Dogs can be trained to sniff out the truffle, not for the purpose of eating it but for a reward of some type - a treat, a favorite toy, praise, etc. A sow will naturally seek out the truffle because the aroma is similar to that of the boar. She gets excited and thinks she’s going on a hot date and can be difficult to control. It can be difficult for the truffle hunter to get the truffle before the sow consumes it. Old time truffle hunters are known to have lost fingers this way.
What do you do with them?
Cooking with truffles confuses even excellent chefs. Simplicity is key. I recommend shaving fresh truffles over warm dishes with rich flavors. Biting into a fresh truffle is no more pleasant than biting into a fresh mushroom. The real magic happens when a truffle comes in contact with warm food and its aromas are released. Then you can breathe in the truffle flavor as well as taste it. Eggs, creamy pasta, steak and (white sauce) pizza are all great options.
You can also infuse the truffle flavor into high-fat foods for extra enjoyment. Seal your truffle in a container with cheese, butter or olive oil (and a paper towel) and keep in your refrigerator for a minimum for 4 days. The truffle does not need to touch the food for the infusion to work - it’s more sanitary if it doesn’t. We make our truffle oil in a similar fashion and it’s worked well for us. Oregontruffleoil.com
Can you take me truffle hunting?
This is a question I get about once/week from friends and customers. As you can imagine, truffle spots are kept pretty secret. Myself and a few others in the Willamette Valley offer guided truffle hunting tours on a limited basis. My tours include the hunt, lunch, a big truffle information download and (upon request) a private wine tasting with a winemaker. Guests can take home the truffles that we find to use in their own kitchen. Check out the website for more details or to book. Blacktietours.com
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, training your dog to hunt truffles can be a great bonding experience besides the culinary benefits. The Truffle Dog Company out of Washington is a great resource for all things truffle dog training. If you are looking for a good truffle restaurant experience, check out the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, OR, Rosmarino in Newberg, OR or The Herb Farm in Woodinville, WA. If you just want to deepen your knowledge on truffles, consider checking out my father’s book - Truffle in the Kitchen by Jack Czarnecki. Happy hunting!
> Article by Taste Newberg board member, Stefan Czarnecki. Stefan owns Black Tie Tours, and Oregon Truffle Oil. Visit both websites to learn about opportunities to hunt truffles with Stefan, and how to cook with truffles.