JACK CZARNECKI,
founder of Oregon White Truffle Oil,
is a noted wild mushroom cooking authority
and award-winning cookbook author.

 

Fresh Oregon white truffles are now available!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are truffles?

Truffles are fungi. They are easiest thought of as mushrooms that grow underground. The similarity ends there, though. They do not have a root system like mushrooms.

So how do they reproduce? Truffles spread their spores by attracting insects or small animals who then consume the truffles. The spores of the truffle remain intact in the intestinal systems of the animals, so that when they defecate the spores are released onto the soil where they have the opportunity to grow in another part of the forest.

If they're underground how do animals find them? Truffles emit a thousands year old aromatic cocktail of gases perfected for the sole purpose of attracting animals to themselves. It's that gas which makes truffles so distinctive and alluring. It's like musk.

So what's the deal with the pigs? The Italian white truffle emits a gas which has an aroma similar to that of a pheromone found in the mouth of a boar. Sows are used to hunt truffles because they are very sensitive to that odor so that when the sow sniffs it she thinks she'll soon be on a "date". Actually the sows go a little crazy and try to dig far and fast to find and eat the truffle which is why they are always tethered to strong ropes to forcefully pull them from the spot. The truffle hunter then digs down and retrieves the truffle.

I understand that dogs are used to hunt truffles as well. Do they eat them too? Dogs are considered to be at least as good as sows for hunting truffles, but, unlike the sows, they must be trained. Once trained to find them, however, they are usually indifferent to the truffle's allure.

How do truffles taste? Not like much. Their flavor is like raw mushrooms. This is usually disappointing after experiencing their wonderful aroma. That's because those wonderful gases are not "tasted" until after our stomach acids break down the truffle at which time the gases are released and the flavor is experienced in a burp. However, if truffles are shaved very thin over a hot dish like pasta in a cream sauce then the heat of the dish will release some of the gas so that the truffles can be tasted as they're consumed.

What's the best way to experience the truffle flavor? Truffle oil is a much better way to get the truffle taste experience. That's because fats have an affinity for those aromatic gases so while you are eating something enhanced by the truffle oil you get a much stronger taste of the truffles.

What's the best way to use truffle oil? Truffle oil is very delicate and the gases that provide the flavor are driven off very quickly by heat. Therefore, never use the oil for the actual cooking preparation but rather as a finishing or flavoring oil.

Can I use it on anything? Yes, but a few guidelines here. Truffles, as noted above, love fat so that adding the oil to meats like prosciutto or butter, or cheese really makes the flavor stand out. Pouring over fish or lox is one of my favorite ways to use truffle oil. Avoid adding to dishes with a high amount of acid like pasta with tomato sauce. But definitely use it over pasta with cream. Popcorn with truffled butter is another favorite. For more ideas go to www.oregontruffleoil.com/Usingtruffleoil

What is the shelf life of truffle oil? Due to its delicate nature truffle oil will retain its character for at least several months. It is important to keep it cool. That's because the gases go into a semi-liquid state when cold, and keeping the oil cold also retards rancidity in the olive oil itself. To be safe keep it in the refrigerator when not being used. The oil will solidify and appear chalky in color. As the oil warms it will return to its normal clear appearance. All in all it is best to think of the oil the way you do fresh produce. Use it or lose it. That said I have had some bottles retain their character for a year, but cannot guarantee it.

Are Oregon truffles the same as European truffles? No. But they are cousins sharing most of the traits mentioned above. Oregon white truffles (Tuber gibbosum and oregonense) are similar to Italian white truffles (Tuber Magnatum Pico) in that they share a garlic-cabbage aroma. They are not as intense as the Italian truffles, however. But what they lack in intensity they make up for in aromatic complexity. The Oregon white truffle oil has floral and herbal overtones the Italian truffles lack. This has been demonstrated in side-by-side comparisons of their volatile organic compounds (gases). Oregon white truffles compared to Italian white truffles is like the difference between Pinot noir and Cabernet sauvignon, respectively. Oregon black truffles (Leucangium carthusianum), on the other hand, are very different from French Perigord truffles (Tuber Melanosporum) . The Perigord black truffle has a pleasant odor of earth, must, and iodine. The Oregon black truffle has an odor of mango, chocolate, and earth. Those "sweet" odors, especially when made into an oil, are intriguing ingredients for desserts.

I've heard that the imported oils are actually filled with synthetic chemicals. Is this true? Over the past 7 years it has come out that imported truffle oils are made with synthesized gases such as 2,4-dithiapentane which is a naturally occurring gas in truffles. As truffles rose steadily in price it seemed a good idea to isolate and identify the gases most responsible for the characteristic odor of truffles, then make them from scratch in a laboratory. Voila! Instant truffle oil! Actually I think the product is very good and to most chefs it is the essence of real truffles. The problem is that the characteristic odor of truffles comes from at least 30 different gases so that the synthetic version, while strong, lacks complexity.

How can I tell if the truffle oil is genuine or made in a laboratory? Look at the ingredients. Only the genuine article will indicate two things: olive oil and truffles. What you usually see is the olive oil (usually extra virgin to enhance the image of quality) followed by terms such as "natural truffle flavoring", "artificial flavoring", or "truffle aroma", all indicators that the oil was made with synthesized gases.

But I often see bits of real truffle in the truffle oil. Doesn't that mean it's genuine? Those bits of truffle, while real truffles, add nothing to the oil flavorwise because they are dried. Dried truffles have no character, no flavor, and most importantly no gases which give the truffle its distinct character. Moreover, an oil to which fresh truffles have been added would not be allowed into the US due to dangers associated with contamination.

Are any of the imported oils genuine? Check the ingredients and stick with reputable established companies like Urbani. Remember that all these oils always used to be genuine and there are some still out there.

So how is your Oregon truffle oil different? First, our truffle oil is made with wild Oregon truffles which I harvest myself. The flavor profile is different from the European as discussed above. Second, the process for making the truffle oil is all natural and contains many more natural flavoring ingredients(gases) that the synthetic types. This has been established by research and analysis done at the Food Science Department at Oregon State University.

What kind of oil do you use for your truffle oil? I use blended light olive oil. Truffle oil should emphasize the flavor of the truffle. Extra virgin olive oil is too strong with olive flavor.

What is your background? My degree is in bacteriology from the University of California at Davis. I have spent my entire adult life in the restaurant business specializing in mushrooms and truffles. I have written three cookbooks on mushrooms including "A Cook's Book of Mushrooms" which won a James Beard Award in 1996.

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SALMON CAKES WITH TRUFFLE MAYONNAISE

Salmon Cakes with Truffle Mayonnaise   ½ cup fresh bread crumbs ½ cup Portobello duxelles (see below) ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper ½ teaspoon dried dill 1 egg beaten ...

Testimonials

… (Jack’s) all-natural, chemical-free oil is actually more flavorful than fresh truffles. And much better (in my opinion) than Italian truffle oils…

Seattle Times – 1/23/10

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