Truffle Rustlers

truffler1635 at truffler1635 at
Wed Oct 4 12:18:08 EST 2000

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
	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
	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
	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
	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
	"Of 50 pounds of truffles," she says, "45 pounds will not ripen
properly and become waste. The only way to ripen a truffle is to let
Mother Nature do it. She does it best."

Comments by poster: The last paragraph explains why even cultivated
truffles are expensive. However, there _are_ IMO ways to mature truffles,
but only after they have reached a certain degree of maturity. Dr. James
Trappe questions whether spores mature after harvesting truffles. But the
aroma which truffles develop and are esteemed for _can_ be developed even
in _some_ immature truffles. To do so takes skill and time.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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