Above: Jack Czarnecki, retired chef of the Joel Palmer House restaurant, now hunts Oregon white truffles near his Dundee home to make all-natural Oregon Truffle Oil.
Below: Czarnecki uses a mild olive oil as the base for his truffle oil, which he recommends for flavoring butter, cheese, meat, creamy pasta sauces, risotto--even pizza.
// Photos by Leah Nash
Mushrooms, another prized food in Oregon’s cornucopia, attracted Eric Lyon to Oregon from Minnesota 10 years ago. But about six years ago he switched to the more lucrative truffles. Now he’s one of only three commercial truffle hunters in Oregon who work with truffle hunting dogs. Lyon trains his dogs to recognize the distinctive odor of a ripe truffle and indicate the location of the buried treasure. Lyon digs up the truffles and sells them to restaurant chefs and other customers.
Lyon, who lives in Portland, operates a flooring business during late spring and summer, when the demand for truffles recedes. But he’s looking to build up his truffle business by partnering with wineries that will prepare lunch for truffle hunters after Lyon and his dog have led a hunt in forests on winery property. Another possible boost for his business is a TV reality show. He says he’s in talks with a Hollywood production company about a show called The Truffle Hunters, featuring him and Eugene truffle hunter Toby Esthay.
The truffle hunter who really deserves the title is Jack Czarnecki. Although OSU mycologists had been studying Oregon truffles for decades, he was probably the first person to really put them on the map. Already regarded as a fungi expert from his James Beard Award-winning cookbook A Cook’s Book of Mushrooms, Czarnecki sold his restaurant in Pennsylvania and moved to Oregon in 1997, just to get his hands on all the native mushrooms and truffles. Until 2007, when he turned the kitchen over to his son Christopher, Czarnecki was the chef of the Joel Palmer House Restaurant in Dayton. His kitchen was the pulpit from which he spread the Oregon truffle gospel far and wide. Now he makes and sells Oregon Truffle Oil from Oregon white truffles he finds himself.
“There is no reason why the Oregon truffle industry shouldn’t soar,” says Czarnecki. “I’m doing my part to increase the profile of Oregon truffles, because I think they’re absolutely magnificent. They’re just amazing and beguiling.”