What Is The Oregon Truffle and Does It Measure Up?
A truffle mushroom that grows in Oregon, can it really compare to the highly-prized European truffles, the most expensive mushrooms in the world? The Italians and French may disagree, but this North American truffle is no side-show.
In the last 20 years, Oregon truffles have become known worldwide for their excellent culinary quality and impressive flavor. And, while their prices are rising, they are still significantly less expensive than their European cousins, making them more accessible to truffle lovers around the globe.
The Three Oregon Truffles
All Oregon truffles grow in conjunction with fir trees, most specifically Douglas Fir. They grow underground and need to be carefully dug up.
The best way to truffle hunt is with specially trained dogs. Raking or digging into the ground is another common way of hunting truffles, but it is destructive and often means immature truffles are unearthed as often as mature.
Immature truffles have no use in the culinary world, making the digging of them a waste of resources and effort.
Dogs, on the other hand, can be trained to sniff out only the mature truffles. This more efficient and much better for the fragile truffle ecosystem.
Sites that are dug up without care produce far less the following years. Sustainable practices are essential!
Oregon Winter White Truffle (Tuber oregonense)
Found January through April, this truffle grows on the west coast, from northern California to British Columbia. This is a new-to-science species, named in 2010. Winter white truffles look like small potatoes, irregularly shaped and sometimes lobed and furrowed, yet generally rounded.
They are small, averaging around 2″ in diameter. Young truffles have an off-white outer shell that develops reddish and orangish patches as it ages.
When young, the interior flesh is white. At maturity, the flesh is marbled tan. The truffle smell is complex, with notes of garlic, spices, herbs, and earthy essences.
Compared to European truffles, the winter white truffle is said to be more herbal and floral in flavor.
Oregon Spring White Truffle (Tuber gibbosum)
Found June through July, the spring white truffle is much like its winter counterpart in appearance. The fruiting time is the main difference.
The spring white truffle is sweet and musky, with a cedar-like aroma and is best served in savory preparations.
Oregon Black Truffle (Leucangium carthusianum)
Fragrant, with pineapple and banana aromas, when young, this truffle turns nutty and aromatic, like well-aged sweet cheese. Many say the flavor is too difficult to describe and that it has a taste all unto itself. It is excellent in sweet or savory creations. A favorite pairing is with vanilla bean ice cream.
The outside of this truffle is black and smooth or sometimes pitted. When young, the inside is white. At maturity, the interior is marbled black and tan. It is found in September through February.
But, are they true truffles?
According to elite truffle connoisseurs, only truffles in the Tuber family are true specimens. For Oregon truffles, this means only the winter white and spring white types are real truffles.
European chefs disparage Oregon truffles, calling them “false truffles” and “non-truffles.”
The award-winning chef, James Beard, however, described the Oregon truffle as being “at least as good…as Italian white.” The dispute over truffle exquisiteness is mostly a discussion of pride, not flavor or taste.
Oregon Truffle Recipes
Oregon Truffles Are The Here to Stay
A common misconception is that the Oregon truffles need to be as good as the European truffles in order to be worth anything. In truth, Oregon truffles aren’t better or worse.
They are different. And, their difference makes them unique and valuable all on their own. Oregon truffles don’t taste like European truffles, and that is a wonderful thing!
The Oregon Truffle Festival
Every year, in January, Eugene, Oregon hosts the Oregon Truffle Festival. It is an elaborate celebration of all things truffle. There are truffle hunts, dog training sessions, sumptuous dinners, a recipe contest, foraging classes, lectures, truffle vendors, and more.
Visit the Oregon Truffle Festival website for more information.