I wonder who was the first to not only unearth a truffle but to decide it should be eaten. For humans, who lack the superior olfactory senses of dogs or pigs, truffles have no taste or scent in their raw form. How did that Adam or Eve of the truffle’s culinary origin know they had something more than a mundane lump. One thing is almost certain, the first person to taste it was not likely very wealthy. Peasants, not kings, go first in uncertain situations.
There is something a bit forbidden about truffles. They are, by their very nature, hidden from us. I always thought them to be intriguing but pungent. Truffle oil could take over my dish with the skimpiest little 1/4 teaspoon addition. Then I tried Oregon White Truffle Oil and I find myself doubling the amount suggested in my recipes. I don’t know if it is because it is pure truffle oil with no manmade aroma mimicking chemicals. Maybe it is just how Oregon white truffles smell, but it is very subtle. It is earthy, clean, uniquely feminine, addictive, an oddly familiar – like on the tip of your tongue familiar.
My first taste of Oregon truffles was at Willamette Valley Vineyards Joriad (doggy truffle hunting competition). I have never lived in a place that grew truffles so I wanted to know more. Enter Jack Czarnecki.
Pure truffle oil? Yes, read the label. Most truffle oils on the market use a synthetic chemical compound that duplicates the aroma/flavor of truffles. According to Jack truffles by themselves have no flavor. If you swallow one you won’t taste it until you burp. Okay, Jack you are killing the romance. “But that’s why truffles are so mysterious,” he explains, “because of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds).” He sounded smart and a little like he was making things up. It is the VOCs that absorb into fats like butter or cheese and allow mere mortals to know the essence of the truffle.
Turns out different species of truffles have different VOCs. White truffles are more versatile and taste of garlic, herbs and grass. Black truffles have more earthy chocolate notes. Then there are European and US truffles. Jack listed his personal hierarchy in descending order: Italian white, Oregon white, Oregon black and something called Paragon.
According to Jack while European truffles have a longer culinary status, in blind tasting many chefs prefer US truffles. And there is a price advantage. US truffles are about 10-20% the price of European truffles. But they still aren’t cheap.
I asked Jack what I should make to really learn how to cook with truffles or truffle oil. He said to avoid spicy dishes and add truffles or truffle oil at the end of cooking. He said the key is simplicity and then shared the following, his favorite way to enjoy truffles.
- Fresh pasta
- Fresh butter
- 2 Oregon white truffles or Oregon White Truffle Oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook pasta in salted water and drain.
- Meanwhile melt butter in sauce pan until beginning to brown.
- Toss pasta with butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- If using whole truffles either:
- Place 1 stick of butter and two truffles in an airtight in fridge for one week. Butter will absorb truffle flavor. OR
- Shave truffle over hot steaming buttered pasta and toss.
- If using truffle oil:
- Add oil to melted butter to taste.
I am going to stick to truffle oil for a while. Someone did offer to open the gates to their forest for me, but this was a tough truffle year in Oregon, even for the dogs. Believe me if I ever go hunting, you will hear about it. Here are a couple of other truffle oil recipes we have tried.
If you want to try cooking with truffles…
Where to buy:
You can order online from Oregon Black Truffles and Truffle Dog Company. Shipping is overnight so that adds to the price. Oregon Mushrooms. has truffle products and you could see if they have actual truffles. Of course these are Oregon sources and you may have good sources for European truffles in a different market.
For Oregon Truffle Oil you can order or if you are local they carry it at Joel Palmer House and Roths.
When to buy:
Oregon Winter white truffles are harvested Nov – Feb. Oregon Spring white truffles are harvest May and June. Oregon black truffles are harvested on and off Nov – June. Truffles are more prolific in Winter. Jack suggests buying earlier in the truffle season. Late season truffles will be more ripe and have a shorter shelf life.