Avalon Wine
 

 

truffle expert

Jim Webb, Truffle Marketer, with Oregon Black Truffles

 

Truffles:
Mining Oregon
Culinary Gold

Oregon Truffle Festival, Recipes

There’s gold in those Oregon hills. Black and white gold in the form of truffles. Buried inches below the ground beneath mounds of fir needles and loose dirt under young Douglas Fir, hazelnut, and oak trees are Oregon white and black truffles. These precious fungi are the product of a mysterious marriage between a subterranean mushroom and the roots of a tree. They grow only in specific soil and climate which the western valleys of the Pacific Northwest are famous for.

There are fall, winter and summer harvests of truffles, though the most sought after truffles mature in the winter. The harvest season for Oregon white truffles is November to February each year. Oregon's black truffle season goes into March. Oregon's truffles are genetic cousins to the renowned Alba white truffles found in Italy’s Piedmont region and the "Black Diamond", the intense black truffle from Périgord, France.

Something magical happens underground when truffles ripen. A subtle pheromone is released that indicate it’s ripening nature, which is why animals with good noses have proven to be such excellent truffle hunters. Truffles are an acquired taste, and an expensive one. Fresh black winter truffles from France or Italy can easily fetch $250 for just a few ounces. Even premium grade Oregon white and black truffles sell for $15 an ounce, or $240 a pound. With Oregon vineyards and wineries developing truffle forests, more of this hard to find, delicious prize may become available to truffle lovers.

Cultivating Truffles- Oregon's New Gourmet Crop?

 

Oregon Truffle Recipes

Basic Truffle Sauce

Truffles in Cream Sauce

Classic Truffled Pasta

Black Truffled Salmon

White Truffle Green Beans

Beef Wellington with Truffle Sauce

Oregon wineries, most notably King Estate, are innoculating the woods around their vineyards with truffle seedlings. Most Oregon wineries consist of a vineyard site surrounded by acres of untouched forest. The small wineries of Oregon, for the lost part, have left their woods alone, content to allow their presence to shelter their vineyards and maintain the "terroir" of the site. These forests are ready made for truffle cultivation. Oregon truffles could become a significant part of a vineyard's income, allowing fallow land to contribute to the business.

Why now? Why are truffles suddenly becoming a viable crop for Oregon wineries? Truffles have historically been harvested in the wild. If truffles were present, they were there without plan or human intervention. Cultivation of truffles was unheard of until the 1980's, when research led to methods for innoculating trees with the truffle fungus under controlled conditions. Over twenty years of successful cultivation by researchers, many from Oregon State University in Corvallis, have led to an interest by business people in commercial production.

One of the world's foremost truffle authorities is Dr. Charles Lefevre of Oregon State University, a truffle cultivation specialist whose company, New World Truffieres, is based near Eugene, Oregon. New World Truffieres produces truffle tree seedlings (oaks, hazelnuts and other species) inoculated with Tuber melanosporum and other truffle species in North America. Planting tree seedlings innoculated with the truffle fungus has proven the best way to develop a truffle "orchard".

Dr Lefevre says: " To cultivate truffles, inoculated truffle trees are planted in orchards much like those for fruits and nuts, except that the crop appears below ground and is usually harvested with the help of trained dogs or pigs that can smell the truffles through a layer of earth. Truffles begin to appear several years after the inoculated seedlings are planted and production can continue for decades. The onset and duration of production depends to some extent on the species of host tree. Yields vary dramatically: some farms produce as much as 150 pounds per acre each year while others produce little. Typical yields in Europe range between 25 and 35 pounds per acre each year, but as methods improve many more farms are achieving yields in excess of 100 pounds per acre."

Oregon white truffles
Oregon White Truffles

 

 

Care and Cooking
of Oregon Truffles

Prep:
Remove any soil from truffles just before eating. Use a soft basting brush or mushroom brush. Carefully clean any mold and dirt off of them. Do not wash soft truffles such as Oregon white truffles. For sturdier truffles (the hard-shelled Oregon black truffles, the Périgord), use a clean toothbrush dipped lightly in a good quality brandy or bourbon, then pat dry with a paper towel.  Nothing is too good for these little babies. Fresh truffles should be inspected every day and used before they get too soft. If they appear oily, use them immediately or preserve them.

Cooking:
The classic way to use Oregon truffles is to scrape or grate the fungi onto food and into sauces and soups just before eating.  Too much heat for too long can seriously mute the flavors.  Experts recommend that chicken, fish, soufflés, pasta, and rice can be enhanced with thinly sliced truffles. Cream and cheese sauces avidly take up their flavor.

The fresh truffle is a still living mushroom, which gives off its perfume for several days. Fresh is best.  Jars of preserved truffles have less of that "come hither" perfume. Truffle powder is a quick pick-me-up to a dish and still carries a hint of earthiness. There’s no reason not to have truffles in some form, even if you don't cook much.

Oregon black truffles can be added to a dish earlier in the cooking process and still retain a lot of their earthy flavor.  Oregon white truffles are much more aromatic, with delicate, floral and spicy scents and flavors combined. Oregon blacks have amore deep kind of an earthy-musky bass note that carries nicely and provides a real rich underlying flavor to a dish

As for cooking, less is more. Gently sauté them in a dab of butter or use them in a cream sauce. Just remember - the perfume of a truffle is very volatile and disappears rapidly so limit the cooking time.

Storing and Preserving

A freshly picked truffle can keep up to a couple of weeks if stored properly.  Its worst enemy is moisture: keep truffles in the fridge, on a bed of rice, in a closed container. The rice will also acquire a wonderful flavor. 

Storing truffles in a jar that you filled with whole eggs and then put in the refrigerator allows the truffle to perfume the eggs within. Use those eggs in a soufflé or an omelet and you’ll be amazed at how the subtle flavors permeate the shells.

You hear people swear by preserving truffles in brandy or bourbon.  This only works only for a few weeks as the alcohol will strip the flavors of the truffle very fast.  The upside is that it makes great cooking brandy when you’re done, that you can add to a cream sauce or to help deglaze a pan with. 

You can store a truffle in neutral oil as long as you use the truffle and the oil within a couple of weeks. Beyond that, bacteria will develop. Truffles can also be frozen for two weeks in a freezer-proof glass jar.

Don’t store truffles, or any mushroom for that matter, in a plastic bag. The truffles will rot if not allowed to breathe a little.  Store truffles in a tight jar in a cool place and use ‘em fast is your best strategy.

Tested culinary matches in recipes for truffle varieties:

Italian white: pasta, eggs, butter, cream, white meat poultry, walnuts, risotto, Parmesan, Asiago and Romano cheese, frisée and other mildly bitter greens, white balsamic vinegar in a salad, bresaola or other cured meats such as prosciutto, potatoes and other gratin dishes, pate and rabbit. Truffled Fontina cheese fondue is killer. Shaved raw, never cooked, and use the oil at the last minute and not in the cooking as too much heat destroys the aromatic compounds.  By now, you know this mantra.
 
Black French, Italian: Dark meat poultry and game (duck, venison), red meats (beef, pork, but lamb is not an ideal match), wild mushrooms, red wine sauces and great red wines, brandy, apples, fennel, mellow cheeses (aged gouda, hard sweet goat cheeses), soups and bisques, pastry, bacon or pancetta. Black truffles benefit long, slow simmering to mellow and marry with a dish, though they can be used fresh when peeled and very thinly sliced.

Oregon white truffles: Everything on the Italian white list except the cured meats. They also compliment some of the culinary matches on the black truffle list, specifically dark meat poultry, pork and beef, mellow cheeses, great red wines and red wine sauces, soups and bisques, pastry and wild mushrooms. They also pair magnificently with tomatoes, something none of the other truffles do nearly as well. Their texture is much like the Italian white, soft and juicy, and they make an absolutely wonderful truffle butter if whirled with fresh sweet butter in a food processor. They specifically complement eggs and dairy products; and are excellent as part of a hearty beef dish such as filet mignon en croute (in a puff pastry crust), as their intense, musky-savory bouquet can stand up to even strong flavors. This extremely versatile truffle can be used either fresh or raw, sliced thin, lightly cooked in an omelet, or more moderately cooked as in for Beef Wellington or incorporated into a sauce or a pastry. Don't simmer them for anywhere near as long as you would a black truffle.  Shaved or grated fresh is best or lightly warmed in butter.

Source:  Tanith Tyrr – Bay Gourmet

The Process of Truffle Cultivation
(with thanks to New World Truffieres)

Truffles are the “fruit” of fungi that live in a mutually beneficial connection to the roots of many trees. The truffle fungus finds water and mineral nutrients in the soil around the tree and passes them along to the tree. In exchange, the tree provides sugars produced through photosynthesis to the fungus. The tree and the fungus depend on one another.

Many types of trees can serve as hosts for Oregon truffles, and many kinds of fungi, as well as those that make truffles, can fulfill the same role for the tree. In nature, the truffle fungi compete for space on the host tree’s root system. This competition limits truffle production, and if conditions are poor, other fungi can displace the truffle fungus from the root system.

Because it is not possible to weed out competing fungus species, the strategy behind truffle cultivation is to provide the truffle fungus with the conditions it needs to prevail in the competition against other fungi. This competitive advantage is given to the truffles in several ways: through careful site selection, planting inoculated seedlings, and creating soil conditions better suited to truffles than other fungi. With a good site and good quality seedlings, the establishment and management of a truffiere is straightforward and potentially profitable even on a small scale.

Oregon truffle cultivators use seedlings inoculated with the "good" truffle fungus while they are still in the nursery. Being innoculated with truffle fungus before planting, the truffle fungus has the advantage of being there first. It is more difficult for other fungi to become established on roots that are already colonized.

In Oregon, truffle cultivators add lime to the soil where the innoculated trees are planted to raise the soil pH. This simple process creates dramatic changes in soil chemistry, giving the culinary truffles an advantage while simultaneously putting non-truffle fungi at a competitive disadvantage. Thus, Oregon truffle cultivators have an advantage that their competitors, European truffle farmers, do not have.

One additional method can be used to give Oregon truffles an advantage over their natural competitors in the wild. The competitive fungi in the woods of Oregon thrive in a limited number of tree types. By innoculating and planting trees cultivated from European sources, trees that Oregon fungi cannot live in, the truffle farmer limits the number of competitive fungi that can compete with the desireable truffle fungus.

Oregon's Commercial Truffle Industry

A combination of Oregon's environmental conditions and the cultivation methods described above (developed at OSU and other universities) seem to be providing Oregon truffle farmers with a competitive advantage. Beautiful, large truffles were shown at the recent Oregon Truffle Festival, and a number of companies marketing Oregon truffles and truffle related products exist today, with more on the way.

Oregon Wild Edibles (www,oregonwildedibles.com) sells Oregon truffles online from Eugene, Oregon.

If you love truffles a lot and are in it for the long haul, you might consider purchasing truffle inoculated trees from New World Truffieres (www.truffletree.com). He supplies inoculated seedlings and professional assistance to commercial and amateur truffle farmers.

Shirewood Farm (www.shirewoodfarm.com) cultivates truffles and hosts truffle hunts from Cottage Grove, Oregon.

The Campbell House (www.campbellhouse.com), a B&B in Eugene, Oregon, has a popular restaurant specializing in local produce, and often uses Oregon truffles in its dishes.

And my favorite, the truely memorable Marche Restaurant (www.marcherestaurant.com) in Eugene's Fifth Street Market, provides memorable meals from local ingredients in all seasons, and uses Oregon truffles when available. Founding Chef and Owner Stephanie Pearl Kimmel is sort of the Alice Waters of Oregon, offering fine cuisine from local meats, produce, nuts, herbs, and more for the last twenty plus years, first as founder of Excelsior Cafe, now at Marche, where she reigns with Executive Chef Rocky Maselli. I highly recommend Marche, at any time, and especially on Sunday nights, when they offer a family style dinner. Marche also has a steady calendar of special event dinners well worth the trip.

Resources and Organizations

The North American Truffling Society (www.natruffling.org) is based in Corvallis, and has regular truffling events as well as meetings and guest speakers. There's an excellent photo gallery of truffles on the site, nice to use to compare what you've found to waht the experts have identified. There's also more recipes, and some very cool t-shirts to order. If you're learning about truffle foraging, the NATS has self-published a Field Guide to North American Truffles, available on the site. Newsletters of the group going back to 1980 are archived on the site as well.

The Oregon Truffle Festival (oregontrufflefestival.com) is quickly turning into an extranvaganza event attracting people from all over the world. At the recent Second Annual event, attendees from NYC to Egypt formed a substantial part of the populace. The event features lectures on truffle cultivation, truffle forays, dinners prepared by Oregon's best chefs, and a grand dinner event ($150 a person) with five courses of truffle laden dishes made by five different reknowned Oregon chefs.

 

 

Oregon Pinot noir
to Accompany
Oregon Truffles