truffles for the people: new story in register-guard

My latest article, originally titled “Truffles for the People” with a subheader “Truffles, featured at a local festival, are more affordable than expected,” is out in the Eugene Register-Guard today. You can check it out online here or see the text below (pasted because the link keeps changing).

We’ll be continuing our conversation about Western Oregon truffles on this Sunday’s Food for Thought radio show on KLCC, with special guest local truffle hunter, oil maker, writer, and photographer Tobiah Orin Moshier.

I wish the title of my article hadn’t been changed to “Truffle Trivia,” honestly.  I don’t think of truffles as trivia.  I think of them as a commodity whose prices are driven up by the reputation as a luxury good, a trend we are not bound to follow in the Willamette Valley because of our supply of wildcrafted truffles.  And I see them as an opportunity to demystify luxury in the name of the people.  It has been a difficult year for truffles in Europe and in our own forests, so expect prices to be higher than in years past.  But truffles are not a brand, and not anything magic, just a fungus.  A delicious fungus, but one that resides among us.

So don’t believe the hype.

Want more humble ways to enjoy truffles?  Well, there’s the truffle fries at Eugene’s latest burger joint, a Portland chain called Little Big Burger.  It’s located next to Market of Choice on Orchard at Franklin Blvd.  The fries blow away Five Guys and Dickie Joe’s, in my opinion, but there isn’t much truffle essence detectable in the oil they use.  But it’s a good concept, I suppose, and the price can’t be beat.

Because of the inevitable edits that take place in print journalism, we weren’t able to include all the recipes I collected for the article.  There was also the omission of all the “truffles by the people” ideas and the description of the amateur cooks who are finalists for a contest at the festival. I regret that these edits imbalance the article in favor of chefs and not regular home cooks, so here’s what was left out, with some slight emendations:

The One Big Truffle contest finalists, all veteran recipe-writers, each offered their own ideas.  Merry Graham of Newhall, California, contributed a simple, elegant potato-truffle soup, and Pam Norby, of Emery, Wisconsin, provided a one-dish truffle-brie pizza topped with vegetables and chicken.  Erika Kerekes, whose annual Trufflepaloozas are recorded on her blog, In Erika’s Kitchen, in Santa Monica, California, offered a homemade butter recipe, perfect for DIYers.

Kerekes educated me on how to get “the most truffle bang” for your buck, stating that you need to pair truffles with background foods:  “eggs, mild cheese, corn, pasta, rice, butter, cream — these are the classics.  I also like Oregon truffles paired with mushrooms, steak and fish.”

My own readers suggested shaving truffles over everything from scrambled eggs (presented in photo) and naked fettucini to a “perfectly velvety parsnip purée” to a truffled eggs Benedict.  Some folks prefered the headier whites for eggs and pasta.

Chef Rocky Maselli was kind enough to provide another recipe, a truffled crab risotto, and I’ve posted Erika Kerekes’ truffle butter recipe and Pam Norby’s truffle vegetable pizza recipe below.  I would imagine that the brie-truffle sauce would work on a pizza with just the pancetta or morels, if you don’t have all the ingredients.  For more of Erika’s truffle recipes, head over to her recipe index on In Erika’s Kitchen.

And last but not least, we couldn’t squeeze in Harold McGee and truffle funk:

Such an intriguing flavor profile doesn’t quite explain the mania people feel about truffles.  Could it be the steroids, then?  Noted food authority Harold McGee explained that truffles “contain small amounts of Androstenone, a steroid compound also found in men’s underarm sweat and secreted in the saliva of the male pig.”  This compound, to put it gently, makes the sow interested in love, and it is thought that a similar reaction happens in humans.

So why not try them out?  We need a little more cheap love in the world.

Was it my endless blathering, or just the randiness of the sentiment?  You decide.  And enjoy those truffles.

Rocky Maselli’s Dungeness Crab Risotto with Oregon White Truffle

For Crab Stock:

  • 2 whole live crabs
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 carrot peeled
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomato
  • 2 quarts water
  • Chili flakes to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1 medium-sized shallot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup white wine

For Risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ onion peeled & minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 4-5 cups crab & prawn stock
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • Salt & pepper to taste

For Garnish:

  • Dungeness crab meat
  • Oregon white truffles, shaved

For the stock: cook the crab in salted water. Clean the crab. Set the meat aside for garnishing the risotto. Coarsely chop the crab shells. In a heavy bottomed stockpot, melt the butter and sauté the shells until they start to caramelize slightly. Add vegetables, wine and water. Skim and cook for 20 minutes, season with salt and chili flakes.

This is the flavor foundation of the risotto so it needs to have good flavor, taste to be sure it is nice and strong. Strain and return the stock back to the stockpot and simmer on very low heat.

For the risotto: melt butter in a non-reactive heavy bottom pot. Add onions and cook until translucent.  Add rice and stir coating the grains with the butter over medium low heat for 4-5 minutes. Add the wine and the hot stock half a cup at a time, stirring constantly. Wait for any liquid to be completely absorbed before adding more liquid. Continue to cook, adding liquid until rice is tender. Add butter and crab meat. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Spoon risotto onto a plate and top with plenty of shaved Oregon white truffle.  Serves 4.

Erika Kerekes’ Homemade Truffle Butter

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon white or black truffle oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon truffle salt, or to taste
  • 1 fresh black summer truffle (you won’t need the whole thing)

Line a colander with a few coffee filters; rip them open and lay them in so that the colander has one layer of filter throughout, more or less. Place the colander in the sink.

Pour the cream into the bowl of a food processor. Turn on the processor. When you hear the noise change and things sound a bit sloshy, go back and look. You’ll know when it’s done – the butter solids will have separated from the buttermilk and will be clumped together. Stop the processor. You’ll probably see one big clump of butter, and then some smaller clumps drifting in the liquid.

Lift out the butter solids with your hand and squeeze a little to get some of the liquid out. Put the butter in the colander. Fish out the little bits of butter and add those to the colander. Discard the liquid.

Knead the butter a little in the colander to get some more of the liquid out. Then let the butter drain for about 30 minutes. Put a paper towel on top and press down to get the remaining liquid out. The butter will still be quite soft, which is good. Turn it into a mixing bowl.

Add the truffle oil, truffle salt, and grated truffle to the fresh butter and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s combined thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if you like your butter salty. Refrigerate the butter in a container lined with paper towels or more coffee filters. It will keep in the refrigerator about a week, and in the freezer for six months or longer.

Pam Norby’s Truffled Pizza with Meat, Vegetables, and Brie Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or dried morel mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup asparagus spears, blanched, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup pancetta, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups left-over chicken, cooked, diced
  • 1/4 cup chives, chopped
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 7 ounces brie, rind removed, cubed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, or fresh, to taste
  • 1/2 cup any truffle cheese, grated
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 package pizza dough

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add olive oil. When hot, add shallots and morels, sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic, asparagus, and pancetta, stir 1 minute. Take off heat and stir in cooked chicken, chives, walnuts, salt, and pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the brie, heavy cream, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a bare simmer and reduce 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the pizza crust on a baking sheet and top crust with brie sauce evenly. Top with the chicken mixture, then the cheeses. Bake at 425 (or according to package direction) for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.  Serves 6.


Chefs give us the lowdown on fungi in advance of the festival

By Jennifer Burns Levin

For The Register-Guard

Appeared in print: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, page D1

When I asked readers of my food blog what home cooks might do with a modest amount of white or black Oregon truffles, one reader replied: “Sell them.”

She was only half-joking.

The truffle, whose reputation of intoxicating scent and flavor is surpassed only by its expense, is seen as a decadent luxury. Dubbed “the most expensive food in the world” by “60 Minutes” correspondent Leslie Stahl, the European truffle market is tightly locked up by a few families in northwestern Italy and southern France, and this year’s shortages have driven the prices up even higher. At Dean & Deluca in New York City, the recent price for black European truffles was $2,200 per pound, or almost $138 an ounce.

But don’t plan on selling yet. Even with its signature Oregon Truffle Festival Friday through Sunday — with costly weekend packages ranging between $525 to $1,075 per person, and a sumptuous, sold-out Grand Truffle Dinner out of the reach of most people — Eugene finds ways to make truffles affordable. The festival hosts a marketplace each year with local vendors using truffles in various ways to spark the home cook’s interest. This year, it will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Hilton Eugene.

For $15 admission, attendees can taste high-quality truffle basics, or inventive creations such as Red Wagon Creamery’s Honey-Hazelnut Ice Cream Sundae, topped with bergamot-infused olive oil, truffle salt and shaved truffle.

Indeed, the truffle’s reputation as a luxury product might be a bit misleading for those living in the Willamette Valley. We have our own varieties ripening in winter, the white Tuber oregonense, and the black Leucangium carthusianum. Unlike the French black (Tuber melanosporum) that grows underground on the roots of oak and hazelnut trees, ours grow comparatively robustly and widely in the more acidic soil under young Douglas firs in tree plantations, both consumed and spread by small critters such as squirrels, whose dung carries the spores.

Western Oregonians may purchase these delicacies at relatively modest prices in local markets that have good connections with foragers, and enjoy truffles all winter long in simple, seasonal dishes. Black Oregon truffles, for example, were on sale at Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene last week for about $448 per pound, and white Oregon truffles were about $176 per pound. Although it still seems expensive, consider that a walnut-sized truffle, enough to enhance an average dinner for a family of four, weighs approximately .02 pounds, or just over 0.3 ounces, translating to $3.50 for a white truffle and about $9 for a black truffle.

But how do they taste? After learning that blacks are fruitier and deeper than whites, which could be called garlicky and more subtle, I spoke with chefs and speakers for different events at the Oregon Truffle Festival, seeking their opinions.

Chef Shane Tracey of Eugene’s Nib Modern Eatery, who will join chef Maurizio Paparo of Excelsior Inn and Ristorante in preparing truffle meals for the festival’s winery luncheons on Saturday, uses white truffles in savory applications and blacks in desserts, aiming for balance. “I often play with the caramel, chocolate, coffee tones in black truffles,” Tracey said. “I usually pair components that are the lighter, complementary flavor profiles to those three main flavors.”

Cookbook author and food writer Molly O’Neill, whose One Big Table: 800 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Home Cooks, Farmers, Pit-Masters and Chefs has spurred an ongoing project to collect American recipes, will host the Friday dinner honoring the finalists of an amateur cooking contest called the One Big Truffle Contest. She has reviewed more than 100 recipes containing Oregon truffles in her archive of 20,000.

O’Neill explained that although the Oregon truffle had its early supporters like culinary luminary and Oregon native son James Beard, it has suffered from a bad reputation.

“Growers and foragers in Oregon are pushing a Sisyphean boulder up a hill as they try to undo decades of sub-par harvesting and handling,” O’Neill said. Often harvested too early, and with tools that harmed the ecosystem instead of comparatively gentle truffle dogs that dig them out, this method created truffles with a flavor “like a potato,” she said.

Stephanie Pearl Kimmel, founding chef of Marché restaurant and Inn at the 5th, and host chef of the festival’s Grand Truffle Dinner, experienced the problems first-hand. When a forager brought one to her restaurant in the 1980s, she found them unpleasant.

They had, she said, “strong overtones of pitch, not in a sweet woodsy way, but more like turpentine. The texture was dry and crumbly, too, so I declined to use them at the restaurant and feared that there wouldn’t be much of a future for the Oregon truffle.”

She had her epiphany when an experienced truffle hunter brought a sample to Marché several years later: “These were larger, firm and moist with a dark, speckled interior and a lovely complex scent of humid earth, apples, chocolate, musk and even hazelnut,” Kimmel said.

And since then, Marché has featured Oregon truffles on its menu each winter.

For truffle fans on a tight budget, opt to make an infusion by grating your Oregon truffle treasure with a plane-style grater, then adding the shavings to a small jar full of sea salt or honey.

Truffle salt has many uses from popcorn and pumpkin seeds to pan-fried chicken and creamy pasta.

I infused some homemade celery salt with black Oregon truffle, and it created a mouthwatering umami component — a pleasant savory taste — for roasted vegetables. Black truffle honey is absolutely delightful, too, for baked goods or biscuits.

And don’t forget your homemade ice cream. Chef Emily Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery notes that “butterfat in milk and cream absorbs the truffle flavor so well that you really don’t need a large amount.

“Ice cream is also versatile. Be daring! You can use all sorts of truffle-flavored items, like salts or oils.”

Chef Gabriel Gil of The Rabbit Bistro & Bar takes the salt-sweet combo to another level, recommending ice cream made of buttery, fruity Pont l’Evêque cheese with white truffles grated on top.

Another option is to add white or black truffle shavings to a small amount of neutral oil like grapeseed or light olive oil, or even better, sesame or Chinese hot oil that has been gently heated on your stove. Cover the oil and use within 24 hours, or store in the refrigerator for a few days to retain all the scent and reduce the risk of microbes. Truffled olive oil is nice drizzled on a pizza or in winter squash soup. Truffled sesame and hot oils can transform mild stir-fries, or if you are so lucky, truffled pork dumplings, just prior to serving.

With ideas as delicious and reasonable as these, there could soon be a truffle shortage in the Willamette Valley.

Here are a couple of recipes from chefs participating in the festival — local chef and truffle expert Rocky Maselli, and One Big Truffle Contest finalist Merry Graham of Newhall, Calif.

Rocky Maselli’s Truffle Roasted Chicken

This recipe works best with either Oregon black or white truffles, but not both. I think you will find that the two offer distinctly different aromas and both flavors pair well with roasted chicken on their own. So, use one or the other. The recipe calls for 2 ounces of truffles but if you have them and want to use more, go for it. If you love truffles like I do, stuff as much truffle under the skin as you can without tearing it.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 ounces fresh black or white Oregon winter truffles, thinly sliced
  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • 1 whole chicken (4½ to 5 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the butter, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Coarsely chop about half the truffle slices, add to the butter mixture, and stir to combine.

Separate the chicken skin from the meat by sliding your fingers underneath the skin, very carefully as not to tear it. Evenly distribute the butter mixture underneath the skin, across the breast, legs and thighs.

Carefully place reserved truffle slices under the skin. Rub salt all over chicken skin, place chicken on a plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and arrange rack in middle. Remove chicken from refrigerator and rub skin with olive oil. Season all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper and let sit at room temperature about 30 minutes.

Place chicken on a rack in a baking dish and roast for 20-30 minutes at 425 degrees then reduce the temperature to 325 until juices run clear and a thermometer inserted in inner thigh registers 165 degrees (about 1 to 1¼ hour total cooking time.)

Starting the chicken at a higher temperature will give the skin the desired color and keep it succulent. Remove from oven and let rest about 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

Merry Graham’s Potato Soup With Shaved Black Truffles

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ cup minced celery
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 black truffles, shaved

Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, potatoes and broth to pan; bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.

Cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. Add celery and simmer for another few minutes.

In a blender, food processor or immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Return soup to pan and add half-and-half, salt, pepper, cheese and butter. Cook on low heat for a few minutes. Stir half of the black truffles into soup.

Season to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle. Garnish with parsley and black truffles. Serves four.

3 thoughts on “truffles for the people: new story in register-guard

  1. eugeneknifeguy 27 January 2012 / 3:14 pm

    Thank you so much for posting the compound butter recipe.
    I love this site, my wife and I talk about this site and when we talk food, and when looking for places to eat.
    Keep up the Rad work!
    (and if you are in need of a Knife Sharpening Service, I happen to have one)


  2. Eugenia 28 January 2012 / 10:49 am

    My pleasure! I love Voodoo & Sauce, too. I’m sad the butter recipe didn’t make it into the paper. Completely my fault.


  3. erikakerekes 28 January 2012 / 4:51 pm

    Thanks for mentioning my truffle obsession and linking to my blog. I’m reading this as we’re in the middle of the Oregon Truffle Festival – I’ve eaten a dozen or more dishes with Oregon truffles in the past 24 hours and I’m not sick of them yet!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s