Truffles, tuberous fungi that grow underground, are the world's most expensive food, costing anywhere from $100 to $1,000 a pound. While Oregon varieties are different than their European counterparts and often less pricey, they are still highly sought after and difficult to find. Most truffle hunters choose not to reveal their favorite locations, but there are basic guidelines in searching for the hidden delicacies.
Types of Oregon Truffles
The two major types of Oregon truffles grow under slightly different conditions. Both varieties prefer to grow in warm, moist soil west of the Cascade Mountains, between 1 and 10 in. underground, at the base of Douglas fir trees. Oregon white truffles, which resemble Italian white truffles, prefer younger Douglas fir forests (15 to 40 years old). Oregon black truffles, which are often compared to French truffles of the Perigord region, are less picky about the age of the trees, and are generally larger than white truffles.
When to Look for Truffles
The main season for Oregon white truffles is November to January, but they are also found from March through May. Black truffles can be found all year, but their main season is November through February. During truffle season, the major indicator that truffles may be present in an area is that it has received heavy rainfall 10 to 14 days earlier. The only way to know whether a truffle is mature is by its scent, which is why trained pigs and dogs, which have a strong sense of smell, are often used to locate truffles.
Where to Look for Truffles
Most truffles are found on private property, on land where the ecology has been previously disturbed by farming or some other enterprise. Former pastures reverting to forest are good places to look. Because truffles use animals to disperse their spores, pits made by squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents are good signs that truffles might be in the area. Umbrella-shaped mushrooms, which often appear after heavy rains, are also a good sign that truffles might be in the area. When these mushrooms start to collapse, it is a sign the area had rain a week earlier.
How to Remove Truffles
Once you find an area where truffles are likely to exist, gently rake away the top layer of leaves, pine needles or other forest debris until you have uncovered an area 4 to 10 in. deep. Look closely for truffles, which may be the color of the soil and/or forest debris. If you are fortunate to find some, place them in paper bags, since plastic will cause them to mold. If the truffles have not yet developed a pungent odor, they are likely immature, and will need a week or more to ripen.
- North American Truffling Society: Frequently Asked Truffle Questions
- North American Truffling Society: Tuber Gibbosum and Leucangium Carthusianum--Ecology, Harvesting and Marketing
- University of Wisconsin; Tuber Gibbosum, the Oregon White Truffle; Thomas J. Volk; 1997
- Utah State University Herbarium: The Ultimate Treasure Hunt--Finding Truffles
- W Magazine; Truffletopia; Kevin West; January 2008
- Truffle Zone: Oregon Truffles
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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