Truffle Rustlers in Oregon?

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Fri Feb 6 00:41:17 EST 1998

The following article first ran in the Salem, OR Capital Press December
26, 1997, and was reprinted in NATS Current News, Vol. 16, No. 1

By Sue Gresham

	As the "truffle" mushroom industry of the Northwest grows, some
in it say the trade now operating in a hunter-gatherer fashion should
adhere more closely to a standard to preserve the product's potential for
high value.	They say irresponsible trufflers - randomly harvesting
immature truffles while trespassing on private property - are giving the
industry a bad image.	Truffles grow throughout the Northwest and Alaska
in Dougas fir stands, primarily between the foothills of the Cascades and
the Coast.  A recent Agriculture Department report discussing the
mushroom trade says it is growing from a subsistence, recreational or
educational activity to a multimillion-dollar industry.     "The
evolution is being accompanied by concerns for sustaining fungi as a
natural resource and the development and enforcement of regulations," it
said. "There is a lack of compensation to owners of land from which the
resource is harvested: it is largely an industry based on theft."   
Truffles grow underground, so many woodland owners don't know they exist,
and are not aware of their high value.	      For example, Bob Phillips,
a woodland owner near Dallas, Oregon, wasn't aware there were truffles on
his property until recently. He has since joined the North American
Truffle Society to educate himself after finding his property disheveled
after a picker trespassed on the land.	      Phillips has since let out
a sharecrop lease on his holdings - much as a landowner would any other
agricultural commodity - giving the lessee exclusive rights to the
harvest of the truffles. In exchange, the lessee will manage the area to
maximize production, and will pay Phillips a fair share.	 Jim
Trappe of Oregon State University began researching truffles 30 to 40
years ago and has visited truffle plantations in Europe, especially in
Italy and France. Those countries have long had a commercial truffle
industry.	  During his exploration back in the Northwest, he found
a species of truffles with the same genus as the European edible variety,
the Oregon white truffle, or Tuber gibbosum.   Northwest truffles began
gaining recognition in the 1970s, particularly after a local chef found
they could taste much like the European ones. But Oregon truffles god a
bad name early on, especially in Europe, when some gatherers picked and
sold unripe, immature ones.    "If they are not ripe, they don't have
that aroma. If they don't have that aroma, you don't have that special
taste," said David Pilz of the OSU Forest Mycology Team researching
truffles.     "Two species of Oregon truffles smell like the European
truffles, the Oregon whites and the Oregon blacks," Pilz said. "They grow
most profusely in the stands of Douglas fir on the margins of the
Willamette Valley on either private lands or timber companies' (lands).
There is a real potential not only for marketing these truffles in
Europe, but also for vastly expanding the U.S. markets."	 Pilz
encourages pickers to use dogs to sniff out ripe truffles, so the
immature ones can be left for later harvest. This also causes less root
damage to the trees, he said, and helps the trees thrive, as fungi impact
the overall health of the forest.      Mushroom buyers Ardy Smith of
Smith's Forest Fresh Products in Portland and Stan and Cathy Patterson of
Mehama are in agreement concerning the industry: in its present state,
the truffle industry is a very small portion of the wild mushroom
industry, but managed properly, it has great potential value.  They
purchase only from select, discriminating harvesters. Immature truffles
are a wanton waste and harvesting them is irresponsible. Only the mature
aromatic truffles are in demand with the black truffle commanding the
highest price.	    Some harvesters try to ripen immature ones in a paper
bag, as you might tomatoes on a windowsill, but that doesn't work
according to Cathy Patterson.	"Of 50 pounds of truffles," she says, "45
pounds will not ripen properly and become waste. The only way to ripen a
trufle is to let Mother Nature do it. She does it best."

Comments on this article are appreciated.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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