Northwest celebrates truffle finds

SEATTLE — The world's truffle maps may have to be redrawn with recent discoveries of European black truffles in hazelnut orchards in Oregon and British Columbia.

For years, some hazelnut orchard growers in the Northwest have been trying to produce these European Perigord truffles by cultivating trees whose special root stock was inoculated with the truffle fungus.

The European Perigord truffles can command a retail price of more than a $1,000 per pound, more than twice the price of the wild black and white Northwest truffles that grow in the region's Douglas fir forests.

But until this year, nobody had ever documented the successful cultivation of these truffles in the Northwest orchards.

"This is a big deal," said Charles LeFevre, of Eugene-based New World Truffieres, who provided the root stock that produced the first Northwest Perigord truffles.

LeFevre said there also are about a dozen Washington growers with an acre or more of the hazelnut root stock primed to produce the European truffles.

Truffles are becoming a much more common culinary offering by regional chefs, with a new generation of truffle-sniffing dogs finding local varieties.

But the European truffle is at the top of the truffle pyramid. The Perigords, though not as pricey as the Europeans white truffle, are a fabled variety that can be used in pastas, poultry stuffing, pastes and many other foods.

So the Perigords, if they take hold, could be a big boost to the fledgling regional truffle industry.

"Think of the wine industry in the Northwest 30 years ago, and that is where the truffle industry is today," said Alana McGee, of Toil & Truffle, a Seattle-based company that harvests truffles with the aid of specially trained dogs.

It has taken years for the hazelnut orchards to begin producing their first truffles, and naysayers questioned whether it was possible to grow the prized European fungi in the damp Northwest.

But in late February, a walnut-sized Perigord was found in a hazelnut orchard of 12-year-old trees near Corvallis, by Ilsa, a Belgian Malinois trained to scent truffles by owner Kris Jacobson, of Umami Truffle Dogs.

Then on March 8, Duff, a rescue dog owned by McGee, found a Perigod while prospecting in 7-year-old hazelnut trees in an orchard near Abbotsford, B.C.

Since that first discovery, two more of the Perigords have been found on the farm.

"It was a little shocking," said Bill Stewart, who owns the orchard. "I tried to keep the optimism up for so many years."

LeFevre said the European Perigords also have been successfully cultivated in California, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina. A white European truffle variety has been cultivated in Idaho.

The Perigords also have been grown in other countries, including Australia, where LeFevre says that some farms produce tons of truffles each year.

At a recent truffle conference, LeFevre was surprised to learn that a European black truffle was harvested in Sweden during the past year.

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