Tidbits on the Oregon Truffle

On Friday evening I had the pleasure of dining with a good friend at one of North Portland's most prized new culinary hot spots; Lincoln Restaurant. Our choice of libations and delectable eats made for a memorable and scrumptious evening. But the one item that continued to stay on my mind throughout the night and into the next day was the white Oregon truffle. Served shaved and sprinkled over a caramelized onion tart with a small arugula salad and pecorino cheese, the truffle shavings were a nice surprise to the dish. The salty/garlicky flavor was an absolute treat for my taste buds.

But what kept me thinking about the truffles were their local quality. First of all, truffles are the fruiting bodies of a species in the genus Tuber of the mushroom family. Possibly the most well known spot for the cultivation of truffles is in France, with Italy most likely a close second. Let's hear it for the Pacific Northwest, specifically Oregon. With its climate that is known to be similar to that of France (which also delivers to us some fantastic grapes: think Oregon Pinot Noir/French Burgundy), Oregon might well be the most nascent location for the cultivation for truffles outside of Europe.

In fact, the weekend of having Oregon truffles on my mind was serendipitous. This weekend in Oregon marked the Fourth Annual Oregon Truffle Festival. Hosted in and around the Eugene area, the Oregon Truffle Festival is held in celebration of the Oregon truffle as it reaches its peak ripening season. The festival is the first of its kind in North America and attracts chefs, growers, truffle harvesters and culinary aficionados from all over the region to share in their love for the highly sought-after fungus.

White Oregon truffle shavings
Photo courtesy of John Valls from the Oregon Truffle Festival website

I was a bit behind in learning about the truffle fest this weekend, but was intrigued to continue digging in to a little more research about them. From one of my most trusted culinary resources, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee:

They're typically a dense, knobby mass, ranging from walnut- to fist-sized or larger. Unlike mushrooms, truffles remain hidden underground. They spread their spores by emitting a scent to attract animals-including beetles, squirrels, rabbits, and deer-which find and eat them and spread the spores in their dung. This is why truffles have a musky, persistent aroma-to attract their spore spreaders-and why they're still gathered with the help of trained dogs or pigs...

Don't let the spores/dungs/spreaders/etc. scare you! The truffles truly are a delicacy when lightly incorporated into the right dish.

More from McGee:
The flavors of black and white truffles are quite distinct. Black truffles are relatively subtle and earthy...white truffles have a stronger, pungent, somewhat garlicky aroma thanks to a number of unusual sulfur compounds. The flavor of black truffles is generally thought to be enhanced by gentle cooking, while the flavor of white truffles, though strong, is fragile, and best enjoyed by shaving paper-thin slices onto a dish (like the one I had!) just before service.

Because of their high cost, truffles are used sparingly. White truffles are generally served raw and shaved over pasta or salads. White or black truffles may also be shaved thin and inserted into meats or underneath the skin of poultry. As a way to add the flavor of truffles without the steep cost, truffle oil is often used in many gourmet dishes.

To learn a bit more about Oregon truffles and even information on the 2010 Oregon Truffle Festival, visit: http://www.oregontrufflefestival.com/tickets.html.



Cutting Mangoes

There's a place close to my office where I venture to often to grab a fresh salad and a side of fruit. The place is called Salad World and I remember one day, not too long ago, when I included some fresh chunks of mango in my little fruit cup.

The flavor was amazing. And the texture? The most perfect ever. I've always had a tough time purchasing perfect mangoes. For me they're usually too hard and a bit more on the bitter side than I'd prefer. I've even tried allowing them to develop for a few extra days in a paper bag on the counter: still no luck.

My other challenge with mangoes? Cutting them. Every time I place a mango on a cutting board and reach for my chef's knife, my mind is suddenly taken back to chef Tina's International Cuisine class where she showed me, and I'm sure more than once, how to successfully cut up a mango. I was baffled, as were many of my peers in class. Do you peel the outside first? I tried to slice through with my knife, but it gets stuck in the middle. Chaos. And even to this day, I continue to consider it a roadblock. Apparently her excellent instructions did not stick to my poor memory.

The other day I asked my fellow Facebook friends how they cut up a mango. I received a few responses from some good friends which led me to believe that I could soon be on to successful cutting of the one mango I had sitting on my kitchen counter.

Angela confessed right away: "I get the frozen chunks from Costco. Lazy, huh?"
Well, not totally. I responded by saying I too often purchase a bag of the frozen cubes for my morning protein shakes.

Martin added in: "Start by peeling the outside with a potato peeler, works every time."

Carrie chimed: "I cut them in half, cut the yummy insides in a checker board pattern, push on the outside skin to pop it inside out and cut off the chunks."
Ok, that just sounds absolutely logical and way too easy!

Denise supported Carrie's system, but said she cuts hers: "In thirds."

But how do they cut all the way through? That is my big problem. Denise said by using a bigger or sharper knife or giving it an extra day or two of ripening.

Well ok then. I was ready to go.

So I took my mango and placed it on the cutting board. I grabbed my chef's knife and introduced the two. And away I cut. I will be honest, I think this mango actually sat a little too long, but that means it should have been easier to cut, right? Not so my friends.

Honest, I tried with all my might, but there was no way that knife was getting through. Is it not sharp enough? That would be a disgrace! Did I not allow it to mature in its brown paper bag long enough? The skin was beginning to wrinkle, how much longer did it need?

I didn't spend too much time and energy trying to cut through and carve out perfect-looking orange cubes, but instead went my normal route: I stand mine on it's head and run my knife in a curving motion from top to bottom. Similar to how some might peel an apple I guess. This delivers longer slices versus cubes.

In any case it was absolutely delicious; almost up to snuff with Salad World's amazing mangoes.

So as my case has always been to be on an exploration of the culinary world I will happily add mangoes to my list for both finding those which are perfectly ripe, as well as playing around with the best ways to dive in a savor the gorgeous fruit.

Let the adventures and exploration continue.

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