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February 13, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Where can humans find those ‘dog-found truffles’?

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Did you catch Hal Bernton’s story in the Sunday Times on ‘dog-found truffles,’ learning how harvesters like Alana McGee use trained canines to sniff out the ripest, premium fungi? Here’s a little bit more about where you might find them for your own fragrant dinner:

While McGee has several outlets in B.C., in our area she supplies The Cheesemonger’s Table in Edmonds. “We just gave him a bunch of whites yesterday to see if anybody might want some for Valentine’s Day,” she said Wednesday morning as she headed out with her dog on a hunt for black truffles to supplement them. The truffles retail at $40 per ounce, said Cheesemonger’s owner Strom Peterson.

“Even if I didn’t sell them, I’d probably get some just for my own decadent truffle butter,” he said.

Look for the truffles soon at La Buona Tavola at Pike Place Market, McGee said, but they’re not there yet. She also sells to a Port Angeles-based wild foods distributor who supplies various Seattle restaurants in season. The folks at Seattle-based Marx Foods say most of their black Oregon truffles are dog-found, and they’re currently selling online at $139 for four ounces.

If you go for a high-end splurge, The Herbfarm in Woodinville sources McGee’s truffles, where they were recently featured in a “Menu for Truffle Treasure” in preparations like a Celery Root-White Truffle Tart with Apple & Shiso and a black truffle ice cream. Herbfarm co-owner Ron Zimmerman said in an email that that the ‘dog-found’ truffles are optimal because the dogs, unlike the human rakers, only search out ripe specimens.

“Part of the problem with our native truffles in the “early days” (’90s and ’00s) was that many if not most of the truffles were not harvested at optimal ripeness. Since the truffle creates aromas that mimic mammalian pheromones, ingested, and have its spores spread, that great aroma is only in the ripe truffle.

“By the way, here in the Northwest, voles and flying squirrels are the historic transporters of truffle spores. They love to hunt them. Indeed, I can tell that I have truffles in my back yard by the vole scratchings around the base of the Douglas fir,” he wrote. (Most of the original knowledge about Northwestern truffles, he notes, came from Eugene, Ore., home of the North American Truffling Society.)

Not sure if you’d like the taste of true truffles? Here’s how McGee describes them: Black ones tend to be fruitier, while white truffles are earthier. But the overtones depend on where she and the dogs find them, with some patches of black truffles tasting of mango and pineapple and others more of vanilla; some whites with a garlicky tone and natural umami.

“We’re finding it’s an issue of terroir, much like you would find with grape varietals.” Do dogs have a nose for those too?

Photo of Alana McGee and her truffle-hunting dog by Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times

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