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.
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.