Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Most Elusive Mushroom in Oregon

Craterellus cornucopioides

Man these are the doggone hardest mushrooms to find in this state. I've searched high and low and with absolutely NO success. I've had some pointers from people who are pickers who have found them around here in the past but with or without pointers I've had the same amount of success...NONE! So I had a proposition I just could not refuse. A commercial picker friend of a friend from my area contacted me and told me he had a spot he would essentially "give" me as it had no commercial value to him in terms of amounts of mushrooms to harvest, but if I was only looking to find some for my own enjoyment and use he would take me right to them and show me what habitat to look for.

It was a great learning experience since I'm still having trouble with some of my Oregon trees and he showed me some tricks to learn some of my different firs and one tree I'd heard of but never seen (that I knew of) a golden chinkapin, which seems to be key to finding black trumpets. We were in white fir, madrone and the occasional chinkapin and they were always near the chinkapin.

Anyway, we hiked like a couple of llamas (or pack mules..take your pick) up and down ridges and into bowl like areas and finally we got to his spot (which in a million years I would NOT have found) unless I had a very good GPS unit and even then... and there they were. Just as I remembered them in CA...almost invisible with their background but growing like black petunias. It was a tough hike but well worth it with the bounty we picked. At the same time we found some yellowfoot chants and a scant few belly button hedgehogs. Yippeee...
I'm so excited to have fresh black trumpets. This winter I've been consumed by and preoccupied with black fungi. I've had black truffles on the brain for months as well as black trumpets so now it's time to celebrate. I feel a pizza coming in my near future. My two favorite mushrooms to put on pizza, yellowfoot and black trumpets. See my pizza blog right here. I think a risotto is in order real soon also! Hmm hedgehog and black trumpet risotto with truffles. I'm so spoiled!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Truffles on Steroids

Leucangium brunneum the Oregon brown truffle

Look what Maggie the WONDER Dog found for me today! We only had one little training session in my living room playing hide and seek with a film canister with some Leucangium carthusianum (Oregon black truffle) inside and she did pretty well finding it hidden in the couch, behind pillows, on the book shelf etc.

So, today we took to the woods and I said "where's the truffle Maggie" "get the truffle" and within a minute she was sniffing a spot not far from where we walked in, right up to the stem of a fern and right there was a black truffle. A few minutes later she was stopped at another spot sniffing so I uncovered the spot where she sniffed and WOW look at this honker!

Leucangium brunneum

We then did some walking and I just kept my eye on her and a few minutes later she was sniffing right up against a tree so I went over to it and this is what I found poking up out of the ground!!

This one is even bigger than the first one!

This one is a bit critter eaten but they are both firm and RIPE! I have no idea what to do with them. If any of you readers out there have any experience with Oregon brown truffles, what would you suggest I make with them?

They have an entirely different aroma from white or black truffles and are quite strong smelling. Kind of a combination of broccoli cheese soup and garlic..with some cauliflower thrown in.

Good girl, Maggie, you get a BIG treat!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

Truffle Season

It is not hard to be totally and incurably enamored and smitten with truffles and all there is to do with truffles. I for one can't seem to get them out of my head. I want to forage for them, cook with them, read about them, grow them, you name it. I think it has to do with the mystique of this knobby little fungi that grows underground where you can't see them and have to understand your surroundings well enough to know where to look for them and then find them.

These days the best way to forage for truffles is to have a well trained dog who can sniff out the ripe truffles so you are only harvesting the cream of the crop. Here in Oregon using dogs for truffling is barely heard of and is only being done by a scant few. Hopefully in the near future this trend will catch on and more and more people will utilize the keen senses of our friend the dog who can sniff out the ripe truffles and leave the unripe to be harvested another day.

I managed to get out over the weekend with a friend and of course Maggie the Wonder Dog and forage for Oregon black truffles Leucangium carthusianum and the Oregon winter white truffle, Tuber oregonense. We managed to find some of both which made me very happy. I was quite pleased to find out that Maggie seems to have an instinctual nose for truffles as well. It wasn't like she was running around with her nose to the ground, having had no training whatsoever, but my friend was peeling back the duff in one area and gently raking to see what was under the duff and Maggie came over to a spot very near where he was working and started to sniff the ground pretty intently. He took his rake and peeled back the duff and there was a black truffle! Way to go Maggie! Now that I have some ripe truffles on hand I'm going to start a formal training program with her to try to get more results in the field.

Oregon truffles have had a bad rap for some time now due to commercial harvesters harvesting and selling unripe truffles, which in turn have been sold to distributors and ended up in stores throughout the country and sold to unsuspecting people as an inferior and unripe product.
This needs to stop. Truffles need to be at least horticulturally ripe when harvested in order to continue the ripening process at home and bring them to full ripeness for culinary uses. Too many truffles are being raked up and sold unripe and will never get ripe due to not being horticulturally ripe when picked. The only way to ensure full ripeness when picking is to have a keen truffle dog that can sniff out only the ripe ones. So, it only makes sense that if you are going to train a dog to detect ripe truffles, you only use ripe truffles while training. You would think that was a given, but you'd be surprised at what goes on out there.

Anyway, back to the truffles at hand. The lovely Oregon black truffles have an aroma unlike any other truffle I've ever smelled. Like a glass of fine red wine, you can detect hints of familiar scents. When I sniff a ripe Leucangium carthusianum I get hints of pineapple, chocolate, mango, more sweet smelling and fruity things. This truffle can be used in dessert dishes according to its ripeness. Much to the contrary with the Tuber oregonense I get a heady, earthy, garlicky, intoxicatingly rich and pungent aroma that will fill your entire house, refrigerator, freezer etc. and all its contents with its powerful yet delicious stench. (I mean that affectionately)

In the coming days I will be preparing some dishes using these truffles and will post the results here so stay tuned.