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.


Langdon Cook said...

Great post, Mary! Looks like your truffle hound is getting it done. Did you train Maggie with ripe truffles hidden in a sock, as I've heard elsewhere?

To be honest, my food experiences with Oregon black truffles have been so-so to date. I'm with you on the pineapple smell; personally, I'd rather pair the garlicky smell of white truffles with, say, pasta.

A couple months ago at a Seattle restaurant I ordered angel-hair pasta in butter with shaved black truffles on top; though the truffles showed good marbling and looked ripe, the taste was much less intense than French black or Italian white truffles. I hear what you're saying about the harvest of unripe Oregon truffles--it was definitely a problem for a while--but I wonder whether even perfect specimens can compete with European truffles. What do you think?


ladyflyfsh said...

Finny, Maggie found the truffle all on her own with absolutely no training whatsoever. For one thing, I didn't have any ripe truffles to use for training purposes. Now that I have some good ripe specimens I'm going to work on some training as you've described using film canisters with holes poked in them and hide them around the house.

I think the white truffles lend themselves better to pasta and cream sauces. I like the blacks paired with cheeses, such as brie, camembert (triple cream) etc. It is especially good to grate the truffle over some ripe cheese spread on bread or crackers. It is also good mixed with cream cheese. I might try some with Mascarpone and serve with some kind of dessert also. I have heard of shaving blacks over ice cream and I'm going to try my hand at making some black truffle ice cream here in the next day or so.

In my opinion, a good ripe Oregon white truffle rivals the Italian counterpart but when it comes to the Oregon black vs. a European black, they are just very different beasts and I think it somewhat unfair to compare them side by side. Kind of an apples and oranges thing going on there. The sweet aroma of the Oregon black makes it pair well with desserts. I'd leave the whites for the pastas with cream sauces. All truffles do pair well with fatty foods and truffled butter is always a good way to preserve them. I already have 4 big logs of it in the freezer so I want to use these fresh.

drfugawe said...

Very impressive, Mary - and it sounds like you've got an A-1 truffle dog in the making! Are you planning to go up to The Truffle Festival in Eugene?
The regular events are for the super-rich, but the Marketplace on Sunday is only $15, and should be fun. If you go up, let's meet up.

ladyflyfsh said...

Doc, yes, I am planning on being at the marketplace at the festival so we should make contact prior so we can meet.

drfugawe said...

Hey Mare,
Since the Marketplace has a relatively short life, we'll probably show at Valley River Inn early (11am - meet in the lobby?), and hoping they'll be enough things to munch on in the "Market", we'll hold off lunch til afterward (say early dinner at 5?). And if we follow that plan, you are more than welcome to join us. We hate going to Eugene w/o having at least one good meal!

Did you see that they're going to have a "dog training" session there? Bring Maggie! Ha!

hluzovka said...

Hey. Beautiful truffles. I want to ask you, Can you help me with truffles?