Category Archives: Culinary Escapes

Why We #DemandDogFoundTruffles!

Posted by Laura Morgan on January 07, 2019

The welcome warmth of the bonfire dried our hands and took the chill off while we giddily rehashed our first experience in the woods with Stella and Sunny. We were surrounded by Douglas firs rising above our heads, atop a hill overlooking historic vineyards and hazelnut orchards in the distance. Beneath our feet was Savannah Ridge, the small backbone of sedimentary rock laid down over millions of years by ancient oceans, lava flows, and most recently, the Missoula Flood. (As “recent” as fifteen thousand years ago.) The latter are facts only geologists and wine growers are passionate about.

Well, and us.

We were comrades who had just crisscrossed the spongy forest floor for two hours, bouncing from one spot to the next behind Stella, the Lagotto Romagnolo, and her intrepid owner, Sunny Diaz. Stella’s got a keen nose and propensity for praise. Sunny is driven by connection - to the natural world and to her foodie-inclined, forest-christened pupils. Stella is driven by treats, every once in a while that’s a small white truffle that she gets to before anyone else notices she’s unearthed it. Both are adept at finagling fruiting bodies from the earth and delivering them to the people best at wrangling their intoxicating aromas: the Pacific Northwest’s best chefs and bartenders.

Prior to the 17th century, truffles were eaten by peasants, hunted by farmers and pigs who learned to harness the sow’s natural predilection for these “diamonds of the earth,” as Brillat-Savarin would come to call them. Before they were considered aphrodisiacs by well-to-do diners, they actually were aphrodisiacs for the sows who mistook the volatile compound dimethyl sulfide found in truffles, for andrestenol, a sex pheromone in boar saliva. These days a white truffle shaved over buttery, cheese-laden pasta noodles almost elicits the same response from truffle lovers around the world as it did for the humble sows of yesteryear.

These days truffles are a very expensive delicacy in many parts of the world, with the white Alba truffle from Italy commanding up to $4000 US per pound and the Perigord from France coming in around $1600 US. Oregon truffles, by comparison, fetch only about $400 per pound. Why is that, you ask? Unfortunately, we’re considered “the bad boys of the group,” but not in the James-Dean-Rebel-Without-a-Cause way. While most Oregonians, including James Beard in the late 70’s, proclaim that Oregon truffles rank up there with the best in the world, we have suffered from a bad reputation on the world stage.

One factor for this is our market is much younger and less developed. In France, cultivation of truffles has been productive since America declared its independence from Britain. In fact, according to Wikipedia, back in the 1700’s the French figured out they could cultivate truffles by planting acorns from truffle-producing trees. Today 80% of truffles produced in France are cultivated, rather than wild foraged. On the other hand, it’s still a bit too early to tell if American truffle groves are sustainably producing because it takes at least 10 years to develop the mycorrhizal network that will sustain a crop.

Perhaps the biggest reason for our being snubbed, though, is because we have a habit of raking in the PNW. It’s perfectly legal here to head out into the forest with nothing but a rake and a prayer on the hunt for truffles. The problem with raking is that you’re harvesting all of the truffles in the ground, ripe or unripe, and unripe truffles are useless, culinarily-speaking. Unripe truffles taste like nothing and are lacking in the intoxicating aroma that is the reason we want to eat them in the first place! In Italy, by contrast, it is a law that truffles must only be hunted with the aid of a dog’s nose, ensuring only the most pungent are harvested. Since Americans don’t have a long culinary tradition of coveting only those most stinky, we have used both in our cooking to our reputation’s detriment.

However, Oregon truffles are on par with those from Italy and France and attitudes are changing due to the good work of people like Sunny Diaz and the folks at the Oregon Truffle Festival. Charles LeFevre, forest mycologist, New World Truffieres founder and OTF co-founder, was quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “... industry oversight to ensure the use of dogs, combined with cultivation efforts and careful management of the truffle habitat, could raise the value of Oregon’s crop (worth $300,000 to harvesters at the time) a hundredfold by 2030, and benefit the region’s economy through increased sales, exports and culinary tourism.” As Bob Dylan fatefully sung, the times they are a-changin.

Meanwhile, back in the Doug Fir stand, Sunny describes black truffles as fruity on the nose, think tropical fruits with a musky amaretto and vanilla finish, to a group of foodies and industry folks. White truffles are a bit different: garlicky, nutty and faintly citrusy. We experience this immediately as Stella has zeroed in and starts digging at the base of a Douglas Fir. After a few seconds, anyone standing within a 3 foot radius is hit by the intense garlic aroma of an Oregon winter white (Tuber oregonense). Sunny plucks it out of the ground and Stella is rewarded with a treat from Sunny’s hip pouch, and off she goes again, nose to the ground, her long, neon orange leash trailing behind her. Next stop: a multi-course, post-foraging meal, made all the better by wine and my new forest-baptized compatriots.

Stay tuned for more truffle stories in the coming weeks, or sign up for a foray and create your own truffle-scented memories!

 

Vineyard Cottages Plum Ice cream

Posted by Joe-Ann Day on December 06, 2018

Vineyard Cottages Plum Ice Cream

 

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups chopped plum (the sweeter the plum the better), plus an extra cup 1 cup milk

2 cups cream

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup vodka (you could use flavoured vodka for another level of flavour!)

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice

INSTRUCTIONS

Freeze an empty freezer-safe shallow bowl or pan. Anything stainless steel works really well here but do avoid any bowls that may shatter once frozen (i.e glass)

In medium sauce pan, combine 1 cup of cream, all of the milk, sugar, and sea salt. Stirring often, heat over medium heat just until the mixture begins to steam and the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, puree 1 1/2 cups of plums, and set aside. Cover the remaining cup of chopped plums, along with any juices, and set in the fridge for later.

Combine the cream mixture, pureed plums, remaining cream, vodka, and lime juice and zest and pour into your pre-frozen bowl or pan. Place it in the freezer. After 20-30 minutes, check on the mixture, once the edges start to freeze, take out the mixture and beat it using a hand mixer.

By breaking up the ice cream, you’ll help make it smooth and creamy. You cannot beat the mixture too much.Return the pan to the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so, take it back out and beat the ice cream again. Repeat until it is firmly frozen, usually around four or five mixing sessions. On your last misxing session, add the extra cup of plums and juices. Once it’s frozen, the mixture should be smooth and creamy.

If at any time the ice cream becomes too hard, place it in the refrigerator until it becomes soft enough to beat, and then continue the process.

Store the ice cream in a covered freezer container until ready to serve


 

A little known fruit the Persimmon

Posted by Joe-Ann Day on May 17, 2018

A little known fruit - the Persimmon.

 

As we arrived at the Pick Your Own Orchard, a group of Chinese tourists were just leaving with their boot of their car packed to the brim with bags of Persimmons. “$300 worth of Persimmons they just purchased” explained the Ross, the owner of the Shiziyuan Persimmon Orchard.

The kids and I watched as they drove off and we too grabbed our plastic bags to start picking, but I explained carefully, we will not be picking $300’s worth, just half a bag full for now shall do.

For us, it certainly is a fruit not so familiar to our fruit bowl, and many have not heard nor tasted a Persimmon before.

It is not a surprise however, that the Persimmon is very highly regarded in the Asian culture with a near religious following, being Japan’s national fruit and originating from China. Being bright reddish in colour and shaped like a round Chinese lantern, they symbolise luck and often used for festive decorations and they are often given as lucky presents to newlyweds to symbolise eternal love. They are also often planted in temples as it is said four virtues - long life, sheltering birds, giving shade and freedom from insects and pests.

 

In the western world however, the persimmon has remained more of a home gardener sort of fruit. But why not change that? Persimmons are such a versatile fruit and easy to grow. They are really reliable croppers and mostly disease free. And provide a beautiful backdrop with their leaves turning spectacular shades of fiery red and burst of orange after their harvests in late autumn - even in the mildest climates. And did you know that Persimmons are technically considered a berry?!! Maybe a Persimmon tree in your backyard is not a bad idea? When slightly unripe, they have an apple-like crunch with a sweet and slight nutty flavour and when fully ripe they become a juicy, sweet, syrupy basket of goodness and this is what our Japanese and Chinese friends are obsessed with.

 

There are two main types of Persimmon, astringent and non-astringent. Historically all Persimmon were astringent and not edible until they were completely ripe. Because of their astringent nature, they could also not be transported or kept very well, until in the 1960’s when Israeli plant breeders developed (often believed by accident) the first non-astringent Persimmon. It meant that Persimmon could be eaten while still firm and shipped practically anywhere in the world (and stored for months). Today non- astringent Persimmons are the norm and grown worldwide, the most common type of non-astringent Persimmon in the Fruyu.

 

Persimmon tea leaves are also said to have superb health benefits. They are high in fibre and high in tannins which can help digestion. They also have properties that can help prevent high blood pressure. In parts of Japan, the leaves are used to wrap sushi as they have antiseptic properties.

 

A trip out to the Persimmon Farm is definitely worth the trip out not, not just for a foodie adventure but to have a good old chat to Ross, who as it turns out, grew up on a big farm, not far from our base here at the Vineyard Cottages, he has a huge wealth of local knowledge, he worked at the historical dairy farm in Helensville and he can tell you many stories of local happenings and of course is super passionate about anything Persimmons! Ross has been on this property for over 20 years now and has opened his orchard to the public for the last 20 years. This ANZAC Day was his busiest day yet! Find him at 152 Rimmer Road, Helensville open for Pick Your Own from ANZAC Day till June (if the birds don’t get to the Persimmons first).