On Saturday I attended my first North American Truffling Society (NATS) foray, down in the sleepy Columbia Gorge hamlet of Washougal, WA. Our leader was Frank Evans, who, along with the dynamic father-son truffle duo of Jim and Matt Trappe, is a co-author of the Field Guide to North American Truffles.
After finally finding a black truffle this winter, albeit one that was long in the tooth and not suitable for cooking with, I was looking forward to stocking the larder with some white truffles (Tuber gibbosum), which have a distinctly different flavor and scent from the blacks (Leucangium carthusianum), more garlicky and less fruity.
The best truffling is in tree farm habitat: second-growth (or third, fourth, fifth…) Douglas-fir plantations of 10- to 30-year-old trees that are intensively managed, with tight crops, closed canopies, and a soft duff composition that is inviting to the voles and other little burrowing mammals that feed on the truffles and help disperse their spores. You find the truffles by raking the duff and soil around the trees with a four-tined, long-handled garden cultivator. If you uncover a vole hole, it’s recommended to follow the tunnel in case the vole has stashed a truffle in a chamber below (that’s how I found my black truffles this winter).
One of our little troupe brought along a handful of white truffles he had found near the Clackamas River (pictured above), and though somewhat critter-gnawed, they exuded the signature maddening scent and had us all pumped up to find more.
Alas, as it turned out, our foray was not quite in the right habitat. Though the property had been previously utilized for timber harvest, it wasn’t currently managed that way, and its standing conifers were mostly older and on very steep slopes with a dense underbrush of ferns, briars, and other tangled growth that impeded digging. Just the same, it was a beautiful piece of property and made for a pleasant half-day of tramping around, checking out wildflowers like this Oregon iris (Iris tenax), and talking truffles. Mr. Evans was a fount of information on the elusive tuber.
And we didn’t get completely skunked. In addition to a couple inedible species known as “pogies,” we found one tiny, under-ripe Oregon spring white truffle. Yahoo!