Why you should care
Because once you’ve tried Oregon, you might never go back.
In 1977, chef James Beard declared that Oregon truffles were every bit as good as European ones — a bold if patriotic statement coming from America’s first foodie. Slowly but surely, gourmands seem to be embracing the idea. There’s even an annual festival celebrating the Oregonian tuber.
Oregon is home to four varieties of edible native truffles, but it’s the winter white (Tuber oregonense) and black truffles (Leucangium carthusianum) that are most valuable. Top-quality dog-foraged truffles sold for $45 per ounce at the Oregon Truffle Festival marketplace this year. That’s $720 per pound — a lot — but significantly less than the $1,200 per pound that imported black Périgord truffles fetch. “We’ve driven the price of Oregon truffles up significantly,” says Charles Lefevre of New World Truffieres. He founded the Oregon Truffle Festival, held annually over two weekends in January and February, back in 2006, in an attempt to celebrate and elevate the reputation of the state’s maligned fungus.
Uncomplicated dishes like soft scrambled eggs or plain tagliatelle with olive oil best allow great truffles to shine.
Many chefs and discerning diners have long considered Oregon truffles to be a poor man’s substitute for French Périgord and Italian white truffles. But while they are certainly distinct in flavor and scent, Oregon truffles — the best of which are sniffed out and harvested by dogs — are no less pungent, aromatic and delicious. Thanks to outreach by the North American Truffling Society and support from top regional chefs, they’re growing in popularity. Recently I hunted for these culinary gems with forager Sunny Diaz and her precious Lagotto Romagnolo truffle dog, Stella, who she bought for $4,500 four years ago. Nose to the ground, Stella ran around a wet forested area of Angela Estate, a well-known truffle patch. She’d indicate excitedly and start pawing the soil at the redolent promise of buried treasure. Other more common breeds like retrievers also make good truffle dogs.
You can keep it simple when serving truffles. Uncomplicated dishes like soft scrambled eggs or plain tagliatelle with olive oil best allow great truffles to shine. I found Oregon white truffles to be more garlicky than European ones, and the black truffles had a fruity, herbaceous top note to balance the familiar and unmistakable musty truffle smell. Oregon winter white truffles are in season January through April, while the black truffles have a longer season from October through July. You can find them on the menu at several Portland restaurants — scallop crudo with black truffle vinaigrette at Headwaters and truffled macaroni at Bistro Agnes — but they’re still elusive to taste outside the Pacific Northwest.
“When truffles are in season, we use them with abandon at all our places,” says Chef Vitaly Paley of Headwaters, Paley’s Place and Imperial. “As much as I enjoy eating a French truffle in France, I think it is even more special to cook with Oregon truffles in Oregon. Their source and freshness can’t be beat.”
If you do get the chance to try Oregon truffles elsewhere, buyer beware. Chances are they have been raked, not dog-harvested. Raked truffles, indiscriminately gathered in larger quantities, are much more hit-or-miss with their flavor and aroma. Chalk up the poor reputation that Oregon truffles have long had to these inferior harvesting methods. A truffle harvested before it reaches maturity will never properly ripen for culinary use.
My favorite from the whirlwind weekend of truffle tasting? The chocolate and caramel frozen tartufo dessert from pastry chef Lisa Horness: snowballs of ice cream infused with both black and white truffles, with a truffle caramel center rolled in dark chocolate shavings and cacao nibs so that it resembled a giant truffle on the plate.
Next winter, I’ll be jumping on a plane if necessary to get more.
Black Truffle Vinaigrette
Courtesy of Chef Vitaly Paley, Headwaters
(Makes approximately 1½ cups)
- 2.5 oz black truffle paste (about 5 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/8 cup shallots, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, whisk together the black truffle paste, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and shallots. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
This vinaigrette can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
Tagliatelle Pasta With Hedgehog Mushrooms, Oregon White Truffle Butter and Chives
From Chefs Mike Delany and Jeff Gardner
- 1/2 pound double “00” flour
- 3 medium or 2 large eggs, plus a couple tablespoons of water, as needed
- 2 to 3 ounces Oregon white truffle-infused butter, diced, plus additional fresh truffles for garnish
- 4 ounces hedgehog mushrooms
- sliced chives and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, for garnish
For the pasta:
Pour the flour into a bowl or clean surface and make a crater for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the center and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs with a fork or two fingers. Add a pinch of salt. Once the flour is more incorporated, knead the dough with both hands, adding a tablespoon of water to bring the dough together. You don’t want the dough to be a sticky: It should be firm and uniform. Once you have a smooth, soft consistent dough (about 5-6 minutes kneading; the dough should bounce back slightly), cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 25 minutes.
Once the dough has rested, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until it will fit in your pasta roller machine. Roll the dough through the machine, going down in number each time, stopping at about 2. Lightly dust with flour between each roll. Use the tagliatelle attachment or cut by hand in ¼-inch lengths. If you don’t have a machine, roll the dough out by hand.
For the sauce and dish assembly:
Clean the hedgehog mushrooms under cold water and lay out on a towel to dry. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and season with salt. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil in a medium-size sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once cooked, about 2–3 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and reserve for the pasta.
When done, drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the pasta water. Toss the pasta in the pan with the reserved mushrooms and about ¼ cup of the pasta water. Return to a low heat and add the diced truffle butter until it has a nice coating and sheen. Toss several times — it should be nice and smooth.
Season lightly with salt and serve on warm plates. Garnish with shaved parmesan, chives and freshly shaved Oregon white truffles.