Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hunting Truffles

This week we're out in the Oregon woods hunting for truffles. Lately, we've been cooking with truffles for the first time. I'd never knowingly eaten one until recently, but after having sampled them in chicken, eggs and corn chowder, I can now recognize having had that subtle flavor over the years in various restaurants.  A little truffle goes a long way, so a good use is to shred part of one and put it into a bottle of fine olive oil. This imparts an excellent flavor that can gently improve almost any food requiring oil.

Truffles can be found in both the black and white varieties, white being more rare. Both are scarce, however, and you can see why in this video - it takes a lot of looking to find one. Some truffles sell for almost $150/pound. In France, they use "truffle pigs" to nose through the forest undergrowth and dig up the truffles. Other places use truffle dogs.

Here in Oregon (one of the best places in the USA to find them) truffles are naturally eaten by voles who's scat spreads the spores on the forrest floor to create new truffles. (The voles are in turn eaten by the famous "endangered" spotted owl, who then also spreads the spores through it's scat.)

Truffles live in a symbiotic relationship with spruce trees, living on the roots and helping them draw in certain processed nutrients, while the roots provide other nourishment to the truffle. The truffle itself is just the "flower" of the plant, just as the mushroom is also a flower of its organism. Young spruce generate the rarest white truffles, while older trees produce the less rare black variety.

Finally, the reason female pigs and dogs are interested in truffles is that they tend to smell like male private parts. It is speculated that is why they are popular with people as well. Go figure.

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