Truffles (Long) with recipes

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Fri Feb 26 14:31:31 EST 1999

The following article is from The Oregonian's FOODday, Feb. 23, 1999, p FD1

Experts wild for Oregon mushrooms

Hunters won't tell where they find elusive truffles that rival the best
European types

By SIOBHAN LOUGHRAN, of The Oregonian staff

	Truffles are nothing to trifle with. We're not talking a box of
chocolates. We're talking about the rich, earthy fungus that's traditionally
been rooted out by special trained pigs and dogs. Old-time truffle hunters
prefer dogs to hogs, because they're not as prone to eat the tasty morsels.  
  Here in Oregon, we do things differently. Truffles in Oregon? That's right,
and we hunt them by hand.   So, how do they compare with the black truffles
of Perigord, France, or the white truffle of northern Italy? They're good
enough to go spore to spore with those fancy European models. Just ask Oregon
mushroom expert, author and restaurateur Jack Czarnecki.	He used
Oregon black truffles, known as Picoa carthusiana, to test truffle recipes in
his book, "A Cook's Book of Mushrooms."   "I think they are every bit as
delicious, exotic, and haunting as their European cousins," he writes. As for
the white truffle (Tuber gibbosum), Czarnecki says the flavor equals that of
the European variety.	      Czarnecki and his wife, Heidi, had been the
third generation to operate Jo's Restaurant in Reading, Pa., but the
agricultural promise of Oregon kept tempting him. About a year ago, having
sold Jo's(sic), they opened the Joel Palmer House in an old farmhouse in
Dayton. The restaurant's specialty is wild Oregon mushrooms paired with
Oregon wines. Czarnecki has hunted mushrooms in the wild since he was a
child.	   "The textbooks say 'foraging,' but I'm going mushrooming," he
announced as he and fellow forager Rex Swartzendruber prepared to head out
into the woods on a recent search for truffles. They had their eyes on a spot
in the Marion County countryside, and had already gotten permission from the
landowner.  The day was sopping wet, and the wind growled through the fir
trees as the sky darkened. But bad weather doesn't stop determined hunters.  
    Both men share a passion for truffles. Czarnecki calls them the
aristocrats of the forest. French gastronome Brillat-Savarin must have
agreed. He called the "black diamonds."  As a matter of fact, Brillat-Savarin
inbued truffles with the power to incite passion. In "The Physiology of
Taste," he recounts the story of an upstanding woman of his acquaintance who,
after dining on the smallest tidbit of truffles, found herself fanning the
arduous flames of a man who was not her husband. Luckily, she came to her
senses. 	"What can I say, monsieur?" she blushed, "I blame the whole
thing on the truffles."     Czarnecki's truffle-=hunting partner,
Swartzendruber, is so taken with the tempting morsels that he gets misty-eyed
when he recalls his first truffle find back in 1990.	    Why all the fuss?
You only have to taste a black or white truffle to understand immediately.   
People describe the flavor of the knobby little lumps as musky, earthy,
vanilla and violets, even sexy. They're certainly not attractive. After all,
they grow underground and look like it. They're warty and gnarled. Some are
the size of golf balls or small nuts; some are larger.	       The ancients
soon learned to ignore their appearance: The Babylonians reserved them for
nobility, and Romans scoured North African desserts for them.	The lump,
bumpy little guys love our Oregon trees, climate and soil. Lucky us. But
don't get the idea you can just wander through the forest and gather them up.
They're elusive. Finding them takes patience, persistence, knowledge of
growing conditions and respect for sheltering their environment.      
Environmental destruction is one of the reasons truffles from Europe command
such high prices. Perigord truffles can go for $60o to $1,000 a pound. Oregon
prices are high, but more reasonable than that. They cost about $68 a pound
for whites and up to $100 a pound for the blacks. Hand-harvesting is one of
the reasons for the high prices.     As Czarnecki and Swartzendruber head out
in full rain gear, rakes in hand, they climb over logs and limbs on their
wet, muddy search.   They're looking for certain trees the fungi prefer -- in
this case Douglas fir. They look around the drip lines of a likely tree,
looking for signs that small rodents have been rooting in the area, perhaps
for truffles.	  Every time the men dig into the soil, they replace the
mulch and earth they disturb. Sometimes they're rewarded with a small, muddy,
ivory-colored lump. Most often they come up empty.	   After three hours,
they've managed to fill a gallon-size milk jug only half full. It seems like
a huge investment of time and energy for a little more than a handful of
mushrooms, but the two are ecstatic as they head back to Czarnecki's
restaurant for lunch.	  "What a perfect Oregon day for mushrooming!"
Czarnecki exclaims as he wipes droplets of rain from his glasses and tried to
pry gooey red mud off his boots.     On the long ride back to the Joel Palmer
House, the hunters discuss Latin names and common names for different types
of mushrooms in Oregon. It's one of the last hunts of the season for white
truffles. But mid- to late-February will bring the first flush - the
mushroomers' word for crop - of black truffles.    Swartzendruber is waiting
for it. He lives to hunt mushrooms. He's also an expert on other wild
varieties and he's a cook who is often frustrated by amateurs' mishandling of
mushrooms.	  He laughingly recounts his first forays into Jack
Czarnecki's kitchen. He'd deliver the mushrooms and then hang around offering
advice on how they should be prepared. Finally, Czarnecki handed him a copy
of "A Cook's Book of Mushrooms." That's when the Oregon native decided the
Pennsylvania transplant really did know what he was doing.	 When
Czarnecki isn't hunting his own mushrooms, he relies on experts like
Swartzendruber to supply him. Swartzendruber sells his wild mushroom harvests
to restaurants such as Higgins. He also is the exclusive supplier to
Irvington Market, City Market and Pastaworks. And, restaurants and stores on
the coast and in the Willamette Valley rely on his mushrooms and truffles.   
You'll find truffles in the market from late fall through January, but
they're sporadic. The best piece of advice is to buy them when you see them
and relish the experience. And don't forget to invoke a special blessing on
the hunter who made your mushroom feast possible.

TRUFFLE TRICKS	Truffles are an expensive taste treat, so you'll need to make
the most of your purchase. If you're not going to use them all at once, do
what the French do. Bury them in uncooked rice and store them in a cool dark
place, such as the refrigerator. They'll infuse the rice with their aroma and
flavor, making your truffle dollar go further as you cook up a fragrant rice
dish.  The French even store them with raw eggs in the shell. Supposedly, the
eggs take on the flavor of the rich truffles. That would make some omelet.   
   Jack Czarnecki likes to slice a truffle thinly and put it in a screw-top
jar filled with good bourbon. After about a week, the liquor is infused with
the truffle's flavor. There's no need to remove the truffle, and you can use
the liquor to flavor sauces. Others use vodka for the same purpose.  Make
sure the black or white truffles you're buying are fresh. If they feel soft
or have soft spots, they're starting to decay. You can tell by the smell when
truffle are rotten.	 Most mushroom lovers say they wipe them gently
before cooking, but you may also want to give them a gentle rinse before
using them.	As for cooking, gently saute them in a dab of butter or use
them in a cream sauce. They don't need a lot of encouragement to knock your
socks off in a recipe because they pack a lot of flavor for their tiny size. 
  As for truffles' alleged aphrodisiac qualities, you'll just have to try
them to find out.

- Siobhan Loughran

	Makes 4 servings
	Truffles pair wonderfully with cured or smoked meats. A simple example
follows, but prosciutto or smoked duck works just as well as kielbasa.
 6 ounces rigatoni or other large, tubular pasta
 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
 1/2 small onion, diced
 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
 1 ounce fresh truffles, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
 4 ounces kielbasa (Polish sausage), cut into matchstick pieces

	Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni
and cook until it is tender but firm to the bite, about 10 minutes. Drain.   
    While the pasta is cooking, place the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add the truffles and
kielbasa and saute for another 2 minutes. Season with salt to taste, then
toss with the rigatoni and serve.	 Variation: As the dish is completed,
add 3/4 cup whipping cream to the truffle mixture and heat until the cream
thickens. Keep on low heat and continue to heat another 5 minutes, adding
some milk if the mixture gets too thick (This allows the truffle essence to
permeate the cream sauce.) This sauce is also good reheated.	  Suggested
wine: pinot noir.     -From "A Cook's Book of Mushrooms" by Jack Czarnecki

is usually served as a side dish. However, as a first course, I place the
beans over thin rice noodles that have been seasoned with a little sauce and
sesame oil. You must use fresh truffles for this dish, either American or

 1/2 pound green beans, cut into 2-inch lengths
 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
 1 1/2 ounces fresh truffles, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
 1/2 of an 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and thinly sliced
 2 teaspoons Chinese oyster sauce

	Bring about 4 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a saucepan. Add
the green beans and cook for 3 minutes. Remove beans from water and drain. Set
	Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the beans, truffles and water chestnuts; stir
over a medium heat for about 2 minutes. Stir in the oyster sauce until it
uniformly coats the beans, then serve.
	Suggested accompaniment: sparkling water.
	- From "A Cook's Book of Mushrooms" by Jack Czarnecki

 Comment by poster: I'm not sure where Rex and Jack took Siobhan out for a
day of truffling. But I have not found any truffles for some time.

In fact, truffles have been so rare this year that the price is higher than
quoted in the article.

Daniel B. Wheeler
"I like to walk a mile in a man's shoes before criticizing him. That
way, if he gets angry, I'm a mile away. And he's barefoot."

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