TRUFFLERS HUNT FOR SAKE OF RESEARCH, RISOTTO

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Thu Sep 10 09:19:33 EST 1998


The following article appeared in The Oregonian on Thursday, August 15,
1996

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

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

	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, peole 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.	    On 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 diamter, in the pine forests near La Pine.    
 “I generally go where there are quite a few trees growing close together,
and there’s no 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, can
they are spread by the animals that eat them.	But to 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 of the fungus.    “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 peole 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,”
says Pat. “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 scientiic,” 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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