Saturday, February 14, 2009

Truffles Postponed

Woke up to this sight the other day. Snow in Seattle. Again. So much for the truffle hunt I had planned with P. We were both eager to get back to our patch and scratch around because recent weeks had been mild, increasing the likelihood of finding quality truffles, but now there was a few inches of the white stuff in the foothills where we planned to hunt.

Instead I might as well elaborate on my last post about truffle hunting. While I haven't received any negative comments or hate mail, I should address my hunting techniques. In Europe truffle hunters traditionally used pigs to root out the fungi and now mostly dogs (because the pigs try to eat their finds!). By contrast, I've been using a four-tined garden cultivator and looking for areas where rodent activity suggests the presence of truffles. This practice is generally frowned upon because extensive raking can harm the forest ecosystem by destroying fungal mycelia, tearing tree roots, an so on. This is especially a problem in areas where large-scale commercial truffling occurs. Additionally, preliminary studies with matsutake mushrooms, another fungus that hides beneath the duff, have shown that deep raking can damage the resource itself.

In the Pacific Northwest, where the truffle trade continues to limp along, raking is a sensitive issue for another reason as well: truffles are frequently raked out of the ground without regard for ripeness. Pigs or dogs only sniff out the ripe ones while rakes indiscriminately uncover truffles in all stages of development—which are then sent to market by unscrupulous hunters and sold by ignorant merchants. Truffle boosters in this region believe that the so-so reputation of Northwest truffles in comparison to European varieties derives largely from these suspect hunting methods.

But alas, I do not own a dog (or a pig for that matter) and so my experiments in learning how to hunt truffles have been conducted entirely with garden tools. In some quarters this admission might raise a few eyebrows.

So let me be clear: My truffle inquiries are small-scale experiments for my own personal use and education. I carefully rake a very small area and make sure, in the golfer's parlance, to replace my divots. Just the same, my truffle partners and I have agreed that we will try to limit our impact by using smaller hand-tools. I would cease these experiments altogether if I thought I was doing any harm to the forest community. And rest assured, none of my truffles will ever find its way to market.

Happy Valentine's Day all!


Jon Roth said...

You guys have sure had your share of the white stuff this year! I'm still salivating over that last truffle post.

drfugawe said...

And what about the Valentine truffles for your honeys? You missed this great opportunity, Fin. Hey, continued congrats on the article - major good, huh!

Langdon Cook said...

LTH - I'm still hoping to make another truffle foray, so stay tuned. Theoretically they're available into March, but my experience to date suggests we should be wrapping up the season by late Feb around here.

Doc - I know, I know. A missed oppty. Hazelnut chocolates don't pack quite the same romance...

Carolyn said...

I still think you need to look in to getting a pig. Just imagine the fun the kids would have! And all the good fertilizer for the garden. Perhaps the Italians gave up on the swine, but the French persist....check out this link from NPR in Dec.

Carolyn said...

Repost of the link (it cut off)