Next month I plan to attend the Oregon Truffle Festival, ground zero for the emerging homegrown truffle culture. The festival is in its seventh year and will feature an assortment of events, from meals and cooking demos to a forum for would-be truffle farmers. My friend Jack Czarnecki will be cooking up some serious truffle fare with his son Chris, chef-owner of Willamette Valley's famed Joel Palmer House. Other luminaries include Jim Trappe, one of the authors of the Field Guide to North American Truffles, Molly O'Neil, the former New York Times food columnist, and numerous guest chefs, including Josh Feathers of Tennessee's Blackberry Farm and Robin Jackson of the Sooke Harbour House in Sooke, B.C., among others. There's even a truffle dog-training seminar.
|Oregon truffle country is also wine country|
Describing truffles is no easy task. They're not much to look at. But, oh, that aroma... It's musky, sometimes fruity or garlicky, always earthy and, for lack of a better word, funky. Some would say it's an aroma more appropriate to a honeymoon suite than a dining room table.
For those who want to forage their own, I'd recommend training your dog. I've foraged truffles with and without dogs and can report that my success rate went up exponentially with the hound. Sniffing out truffles is no problem for canine smellers, and generally the truffles will be of better quality, which is to say, riper.
|Jack Czarnecki with fresh truffles|
Be sure to examine your truffle before buying. It should be dry, firm, and pungent. Black truffles, to my nose, smell fruity, somewhat like overripe pineapple, with a distinctly fungal underpinning that is strange and beguiling. White truffles are more garlicky and can pack a wallop. Like other complex foods (e.g., wine, chocolate), the taste and aroma will vary for individual palates. Some people go to pieces in the presence of truffles, while others wonder why the fuss.
Once your truffle is conveyed safely home you'll need to take precautions in serving it. Slice it thinly over hot food. A little goes a long way. Simply shaved over buttered pasta is a classic way to enjoy the singular essence of truffles. The heat of the pasta reacts with the truffle and the fat in the butter serves to absorb the flavor. Prolonged cooking, on the other hand, will destroy the delicate molecular design of its scent. I don't understand recipes that call for inserting slivers of truffle in a piece of meat before roasting. The cooking process will likely obliterate the truffle flavor—but perhaps there are ways to pull off such a feat. I'll be sure to report back on what I learn about cooking with truffles at the Oregon Truffle Festival.