The trouble with truffles
November 6, 2013 11:22 AM   Subscribe

PNW filter: has anyone had success finding truffles (the fungal kind) in the wild ?

I'm not looking to steal your secret place, and I kinda know the basics. I have been lead to believe that Oregon truffles abound if you know how to hunt them. My question then is this: do you simply pick a trail and hunt among the roots of the proper trees along it, or do you bash deep into the woods looking for a particular thing, like the edge of a meadow, or an old growth grove or something specific. Any tips will help, I am planning an outing this weekend, am prepared to be disappointed.
posted by OHenryPacey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
oregonian here. the last chef at one of my favorite restaurants, now departed (for europe, not heaven or hell) had a doggie. the nose of this friendly, medium-sized hound was alleged to be so gifted and trained to detect truffles that patrons were forbidden to offer him table tidbits for the risk of compromising it. if you got a puppy from a truffle-hound breeder this week, it could be ready for action by november, 2014.
posted by bruce at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the UK truffle-hunters also use specially trained dogs.
posted by pipeski at 11:40 AM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: I just finished The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of Secrets, Eccentrics, and the American Dream by Langdon Cook and there is a section specifically about truffles. He describes the various trees of the PNW that are likely hosts, common places to find them, etc. If I had not already returned the book to the library I would pull out that information for you.
posted by komara at 12:02 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I gathered a few immature white truffles (Tuber oregonense) in the Eugene area as part of an excursion organized by the Oregon Truffle Festival a few years ago. We used a small rake and poked around the roots of youngish Doug firs on private land. The owner explicitly granted us permission to be there.

Finding the truffles wasn't too hard (the ones I found weren't prime specimens or anything), but, again, we were hunting in a known truffle location. We raked around in the dirt till we found light, smooth dirt clods that were actually truffles.

Two things:
- I am very leery of amateur fungus-hunting. Fungus is weird and comes in all shapes; don't guess about something you're intending to eat. Find someone to go with who knows what you're finding! (The first fungus walks I ever went on were guided by a retired physician who was the on-call expert for mushroom poisoning for the local hospitals.)
- IIRC, it's kinda hard to find places where collecting natural items is allowed. I'm not totally up on the legalities, but I think you may need a permit for truffle hunting on public lands now? You should call the park/forest/etc where you're planning to hunt and get the skinny on the law. The truffle festival people were quite clear that it's not cool to just wander into a park and start collecting. (I don't remember the specifics, just that I remember thinking that it seemed like a hassle.)

That said: The guidelines we were given were that Douglas fir is best, but not super-old trees. Land that was clearcut 20-40 years ago, so the trees aren't ginormous. (Truffles also grow in the roots of other species, but we were pointed toward Doug fir.)

Have you seen the North American Truffling Society FAQ?
posted by purpleclover at 12:07 PM on November 6, 2013

I also came to mention dogs being used to find truffles. This is a hugely popular thing with dog owners now. In Oregon, there is a festival and they include truffle dog training seminars. That festival is coming up again in January.

When you train a dog to do it, you can train them to just sniff it out and then tap the ground with their paw where it is, this way you only dig up the ripe ones and leave the others undisturbed. There have been some articles in local papers here (Seattle area) about people doing this with their dogs and selling the truffles to restaurants, I think.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 12:11 PM on November 6, 2013

I am very leery of amateur fungus-hunting. Fungus is weird and comes in all shapes; don't guess about something you're intending to eat. Find someone to go with who knows what you're finding!

2-nding. This is really important. Hunting mushrooms and other fungus is something that you really should pay other people to teach you how to do (or find qualified volunteers), until it becomes second nature. It really can be dangerous. The flip side is that once it's not really dangerous, it's the most fun thing ever, and nearly every time you go on a hike, you come home with dinner.

But yes, dogs are mostly used in the PNW for finding truffles; it's rather difficult, but not impossible, without one.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:19 PM on November 6, 2013

A friend of mine grew up in Perigord France, home of the best black truffles - he's by far the best mushroom hunter I know. His advice for finding truffles has been completely useless for me, either because I'm inept or impatient but maybe it will work for you -- he claims that the smell of truffles attracts flies and that by paying attention to where a fly will land in the forest you will find truffles buried under that spot. Personally, I'll stick with foraging for the bright orange chanterelles you can see from across the forest - it's much more my speed.
posted by foodgeek at 2:11 PM on November 6, 2013

I had a trufflelufagus dog. Training was just mixing truffle oil with the dog food.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:39 PM on November 6, 2013

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