In the mushroom industry, rival groups of pickers occasionally
confront one another with guns and machetes, arguing over which
shiitakes or morels belong to whom. Beyerle assures me this
competition never happens with trufflers. Demand is not as high,
and few people even know truffles exist there.
We stop at a grove of Douglas firs - a favorite host for truffles.
Beyerle points to a smattering of squirrel middens, which indicates
that a squirrel was recently up in the tree, eating a pinecone and
dropping crumbs. Let's hope he also dropped something else. Unlike
mushrooms, in which spores are scattered by the wind, truffles are
self-contained, with spores inside. Spores are distributed when the
truffle is eaten by an animal, passed through its digestive system,
and eliminated, as Beyerle puts it, "packaged into a nice little
fecal bullet." Not a phrase you'd ever see on a fancy restaurant
menu. Regardless, whatever the squirrel has been up to here, it
hasn't produced any truffles.
Beyerle and I meet up with the rest of our group, and it isn't
looking good. Baskets are empty, faces neutral and unsmiling. The
expedition trudges out of the forest, back to our vehicles.
SOME MOMENTS IN LIFE seem to unfold as if they were
occurring for the very first time in history. Such as a group of
people standing alongside a road in rural Oregon, eating sandwiches
and having a detailed discussion about Italian truffle shavers.
Someone unpacks a bag of chips and a container of sour
cream-truffle dip. A pickup truck whizzes by. Does the driver have
I learn more truffle lore. Don't cook them, because the flavor
escapes too much. Better to add them to milk-based ingredients,
which capture and enhance the flavor. Homemade truffle butter is
great over popcorn. Inserting thin slices under the skin of a
chicken before marinating is also popular.