Sustainable Living Center Oregon
Have Truffle Dog Will Travel …….Why Dogs? They are smart, manpleasing, good-sized creatures with an incredible sense of smell! A dog has 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while we humans have only 5 million.
It was raining this morning when Jensen Rhodes and his dog, Jedi, set off into the woods. Covered with waterproof clothing, Jensen could be dressed for hunting elk or deer. But he is not. With his white standard Poodle loping ahead, he was looking for something different and much more valuable …… Oregon truffles.
Truffles aren’t mushrooms, though they are fungi. Mushrooms grow above-ground, truffles underground. Jensen use the dog smelling ability to find truffles. Unlike mushrooms, culinary truffles grow underground. There are many different species, each with its own flavor and odor. The Oregon White Truffle, is often found growing in the duff at the base of Douglas firs. Searching for truffles is a bit like hunting for Easter eggs or going on a treasure hunt. All the right surrounding conditions must be in place—correct time of year, correct place, correct climatic conditions. Winter is the time for truffle forays.
Jedi takes the lead on this trip. He trained to sniff out mature truffles growing on the shallow roots of Douglas fir and other trees. As soon as he picked up a truffle scent, he began digging frantically, throwing aside soil with him front paws.
“Easy, easy,” Jensen said, stepping in. Less than a minute later, he pulled a golf ball-sized truffle out of the ground. He checked the lump and was satisfied that it was mature but not yet ripe. He rewarded Jedi with a treat. “When a dog find a truffle, you give him a treat,” says Jensen
The truffle-tracking duo spent the next two hours repeating this routine. Before they leave, Jensen estimated they’d found between 2 and 3 pounds of truffles. Selling at $400 – $600 a pound, it is a good morning. Jensen give the majority to the land owner.
Oregon forests produce three main varieties of truffles: winter white, spring white and black. The season begins “when the deciduous trees lose their leaves,” Jensen said. “Nature doesn’t watch a calendar.” Winter whites are typically available from around Thanksgiving until February. The season for black truffles runs through May.
In recent years, Oregon’s gourmet chefs have clamored for black and white truffles. And that, in turn, had land owners clamoring for the Legislature to take action. Oregon’s Board of Forestry regulate truffle hunting on state and private lands. That means truffles will became Oregon’s first regulated forest product and taking truffle off land that if one does not have own or have permission of the land owner, they get jail time.
When Jensen first started hunting Oregon truffles. “It was an industry that had a lot of illegal activity,” Jensen said, referring to how many people went onto private lands to search for truffle. Inexperienced truffle hunters used rakes to unearth them, mess up the ground and sell everything they could find to chefs.
The problem with that process, Jensen said, is that truffles must be mature before they’re picked and fully ripe before they’re eaten. If they aren’t, they lack the flavor and aroma that make them famous. Because early truffle hunters often sold immature products, Oregon truffles were considered inferior to their French and Italian brethren.
In truth, ripe Oregon truffles are considered on par with the best European varieties. One of their main contributions was encouraging truffle hunters to train dogs to sniff out mature truffles. Jensen likened the process to harvesting a tomato plant. “When you rake, you’re picking the green tomatoes,” he said. “Dogs pick only the red ones.”
Dogs, however, “aren’t a slam-dunk answer,” he said. Like any fruit that must be shipped, truffles should be picked when they’re mature but not yet ripe. Otherwise they have little shelf life.
There’s no official count of how many people are involved in the Oregon truffle industry. It is estimated there are thirty people who grow them with introduced truffle roots to harvest them commercially and over a thousand people who hunt them “opportunistically” in the wild.
Jensen says in past years, work with dogs like Jedi, was able to collect many pounds of truffles in a weekend.
“With a dog, you can go back week after week, month after month, and selectively harvest only the ripe ones” he says.
This year, however, he’s struggling to find places to forage. Some of the best truffle territory is on privately owned tree farms in the coast range. It’s become really difficult. Most of the large timber companies don’t offer permits for this activity or any mushrooms.
Jensen says now he can only hunt for truffles on land that belongs to friends or where he has written permission. An employee of one of the companies, which owns many groves in the coast range, confirmed his company does not give permits to truffle hunters. A spokesman with Weyerhaeuser did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jensen is always looking for more places to find truffles. He shares the truffles with the land owner for a small percentage of what he finds. If you have a groves of Douglas fir and want some truffle, call Jensen.
Oregon Coast Truffles Company