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Long considered a delicacy, the truffle is the subterranean fruit of a type of fungus. While many people think of Europe as the only source of truffles, these small, aromatic fungi also grow in the United States in places like Northern California, where several species of truffle-producing fungi can be found. Truffles live in a symbiotic relationship with certain types of trees and are commonly found in orchards and forests around Douglas fir, oak, pine, hazelnut and beech trees. Careful digging at the right time around these trees can reveal tasty truffles for the taking.
Collect truffles during the wet season when the soil is damp, particularly from 10 and 15 days after a good rain. As above-ground species of mushrooms start to die off, truffles are usually ready to harvest.
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Select a tree that California truffles are known to grow around. Look for holes made by squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents that dig for the truffles as forage. In particular, the California red-backed vole is fond of truffles.
Scrape the leaves from the soil surrounding the tree with the rake. Break up the soil carefully with the rake to about 3 to 4 inches deep. Take care not to work too vigorously or you may damage the truffles.
Scan the soil for truffles as you work. California truffles will appear as tuberous and warty nodules that may range in size from 1 to 4 inches across, on average. The color of California truffles can vary from black to brown, red or white.
Place any truffles you find in a paper bag that allows moisture to escape. This helps keep the truffles fresh.
Do not store California truffles in sealed plastic bag or containers, as the moisture that collects within them will quickly spoil the truffles.
Unless you are an expert at fungi identification or you know an expert who can identify them, do not collect or eat any wild fungi to avoid accidentally eating toxic fungi. Many wild fungi that may resemble truffles are poisonous. For instance, Amanita mushrooms, when young, and pigskin puffball mushrooms, which may be confused for truffles, are highly toxic.