Trufflers Hunt For Sake of Research, Risotto

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Thu Apr 23 00:48:37 EST 1998


The following is an article that first appeared in The Oregonian for Thursday,
August 15, 1996.

TRUFFLERS HUNT FOR SAKE OF RESEARCH, RISOTTO
By TOM FORSTROM - Statesman Jornal

Summary: The thrill of the search sends aficionados of the prized culinary
treasure combing through Oregon's forests

	CORVALLIS - If Welles Bushnell had his way, he'd be out in the woods even
more than he already is, scraping away at the ground beneath trees.
	He'd be down on his knees, brushing at the soil, looking for the treasure
that draws him into the woods - truffles.
	Truffles are a prized, edible fungus that, in some places, are rooted out
by trained pigs or sniffed out by dogs. In the Northwest, people are the main
hunters.
	Bushnell of Salem is a member of the North American truffling Society, a
group based in Corvallis, that has about 300 members worldwide.
	One one recent day, Bushnell was searching an Oregon State University
forest just north of Corvallis, with members Pat and John Rawlinson of
Corvallis and society president Zelda Carter of lebanon.
	Each carried a small rake to clear away the leaves, moss and other ground
cover. After each site is searched, they used the rakes to return the ground
cover to the way they found it.
	"Some people say you don't need to put it back," Pat Rawlinson says. "They
say it spreads the spores better if you don't. We always put our digging back.
Sometimes when we're putting it back, we unearth another truffle."
	It is the hunt - the thrill of the search - that brings Bushnell and
others into the forest.
	"It's sort of like being on a giant Easter egg hunt," Carter says.
	Truffles are related to mushrooms but grow under the moist mat of leaves,
moss and rotting logs of the forest floor. Their odor entices animals to find
them and eat them so the spores will be dispersed and widely scattered.
	Deer and elk eat them, as do rodents. So trufflers look for signs that
rodents have been there, or they look along deer paths and for signs that the
ground has been disturbed.
	Bushnell, who has visited the rainy Valsetz area and the more arid Central
Oregon area in search of truffles, found his largest, about two and a half
inches in diameter, in the pine forests near La Pine.
	"I generally go where there are quite a few trees growing close together,
and there's not a lot of undergrowth," he says. "I find places where the
ground is pretty clean, there's a lot of moss and where animals dig things
up."
	Truffles are the "fruiting" agent of a larger fungus system called
mycorrhiza that lies beneath the forest floor. The truffles have spores, and
they are spread by the animals that eat them.
	But the humans, they are prized culinary treasures that are used raw or
barely heated on foods such as pasta, sauces, risotto with Parmesan or other
dishes that benefit from the fungus' earthy taste.
	"The main thing is, don't apply any heat. Heat destroys the flavor,"
Bushnell said.
	Fresh truffles may sell for $80 a pound or more. Salem restaurateur
Alessandro Fasani, of Alessandro's Park Plaza, said he has paid $100 for
truffles.
	Part of the reason for the expense is that they are so labor intensive to
collect. Finding them in the first place takes training and experience.
	Truffles date back centuries. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered
them both therapeutic and an aphrodisiac. The French added truffles to cooking
in the 15th century.
	But to the group of people in the woods, today, it's almost purely
science. Each truffle they find will be recorded, the truffle's color, and
size and other information, will be noted, as well as other information.
	The truffles will be taken to the labs of the USDA Forest Sciences Center
at Oregon State University, which studies the relationship of the truffles to
the trees they grow under and to the ecology of the forest.
	And sometimes, if the labs have plenty of truffles, they will go home with
the truffling society members to be eaten.
	"Part of the research is edibility," Pat says. "We do have a cookbook."
	Carter has been searching for truffles for about five years, after her
interest in mushrooms grew to include truffles.
	"It's more scientific," she said. "I thrive on that - learning something
new. I like to try new things, and this is a fun thing."

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
http://www.oregonwhitetruffles.com


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