The spot near the Douglas fir clearly had drawn the attention of some digging animal in the recent past. Hmmmm ... Good place to seek our quarry. I gently raked the duff away from the base of the tree and a lump fell out. I gasped involuntarily and dropped to my knees.
There it was, for all the world looking like a lump of coal. But this was no clod of earth or chip of anthracite. It was an Oregon black truffle the size of a small egg. No, definitely not coal. More like a diamond.
Finally, after hours of fruitless digging, I had found leucangia carthusiana, the Oregon black truffle. At more than $300 a pound, the allusion to a diamond is not that far off. Even though that's five times cheaper than European black truffles, it's still enough to make this delicacy beyond my reach.
That is, until Jack Czarnecki invited me up to Oregon for a weekend to chase the elusive truffle. Czarnecki might be the world's leading expert on the culinary aspects of Oregon truffles, and he is the maker of what I consider the finest truffle oil anywhere. (I included it on my shortlist of most excellent Christmas gift ideas last week.)
Truffles, both black and white, are among the world's great ingredients, and are a food that evokes the carnal more than anything except, perhaps, chocolate. A truffle's secret isn't its good looks, which range from a turd in the case of black truffles to a dirty snowball in the case of whites. Nope, the secret to the truffle's vaunted sex appeal is its aroma. Every variety wears a different cologne, and arguments rage over whether the white or black truffle possesses the most captivating scent—and while some say the European truffles are vastly superior to our Oregon truffles, I would politely disagree. I've had the pleasure of them all, and put the Oregon white truffle at the top of the list; this is the truffle Czarnecki uses to make his oil.