The Oregon white truffle takes the prize

Throughout the damp Willamette Valley winter, Jack Czarnecki hunts for one of the more than 350 varieties of Northwest truffle species. Unlike the Italian white truffles that grow deep in the soil, the Oregon white truffle attaches itself to the shallow-rooted Douglas fir. By gently raking pine needles from the trees’ roots, he sometimes uncovers his luscious prize.

Czarnecki, who wrote the James Beard Award–winning cookbook A Cook’s Book of Mushrooms, moved from Pennsylvania to Oregon to open Joel Palmer House in 1997. Shortly thereafter he went with a friend to harvest tuber oregonense — the Oregon white truffle. Four years later, he had perfected a process to make the first natural American white truffle oil.

“Making truffle oil is tricky,” says Czarnecki, whose background is in bacteriology. “The more mature the truffle, the more quickly it produces its gases,” known as aromatics. Timing is key:  Neither immature nor overripe truffles fully express all sulfuric compounds typically found in his finishing oil. And those aromatics attach themselves to lipids found in many fat-containing foods, like oil. Each single-liter, sterile batch is aged for up to six months to develop those aromatics, very similar to aging wine.

Czarnecki cautions, “Read labels. Synthetic truffle oil is labeled ‘white truffle essence’ or ‘natural flavors.’” His Oregon White Truffle Oil has two ingredients: olive oil and white truffles, a dreamy, ephemeral finish when drizzled over salmon steak or green beans.

“Chefs think they prefer the European truffles,” says Czarnecki, “but in a blind taste test most prefer the Oregon white truffle. That makes me giddy.”

Oregon White Truffle Oil is available for $14.99 for a 2-ounce bottle or $30 for 5 ounces. Store in the refrigerator for up to one year. 

Wild Mushroom Risotto with Oregon White Truffle Oil

1 quart water 

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms

½ teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon soy sauce

¼ pound unsalted butter

½ ounce dried onion

1 cup long grain rice

Grated Parmesan cheese

½ ounce Oregon White Truffle Oil

In uncovered saucepan, bring water, dried mushrooms, sugar, salt, and soy sauce to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain liquid and reserve. Finely chop mushrooms.

In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter and add dried onion and rice. Stir for one minute, then add reserved mushroom  liquid and chopped mushrooms. Cook uncovered, stirring gently until liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Portion rice, drizzle lightly with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil and serve. 

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