Truffle shuffle


POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some people golf, some people travel—Jack Czarnecki is devoting his golden years to the Oregon truffle.  “;My retirement project is producing truffle oil,”; Czarnecki said. “;I did it out of frustration and anger over the attitude people have about Oregon truffles.”;

And that attitude would be?

People don't think they're any good.”;

Proving them wrong has become Czarnecki's cause, and he's fiercely passionate about it. To the point that while here on vacation—he has a time-share unit in Hawaii—Czarnecki brought along both fresh truffles and bottles of his oil, to offer to chefs and whoever else would listen.

He believes the Oregon truffle has a depth of aroma and flavor comparable to European imports that can sell for $1,000 and up per pound. “;There's no other flavor, no other aroma like it.”;

Czarnecki is the retired owner of the Joel Palmer House, a restaurant in Dayton, Ore., now run by his son. He also is the author of three books on mushrooms, one of which—“;A Cook's Book of Mushrooms”; (Artisan, 1995), won the James Beard Foundation's cookbook award.

  Last year he began producing Oregon White Truffle Oil, made with truffles that he harvests himself in Douglas fir forests in the Willamette Valley. He says it's the only truffle oil made domestically.

Oregon truffles have a bad reputation, he said, because they're generally harvested too early and are being tasted when they're not fully ripened. “;It's analogous to if I told you Oregon has the best, juiciest tomatoes in the world and then I sent you a green one.”;

Czarnecki is in the vanguard of a movement to promote the Oregon truffle and build a truffle industry in the Pacific Northwest. This weekend he'll participate in the fourth Oregon Truffle Festival in Eugene as one of dozens of chefs and truffle advocates.

“;Oregon truffles, when they're at their best, are on par with European truffles, when it comes to aroma and the experience of eating them,”; said Charles Lefevre, founder of the festival.

Yet even high-end chefs have barely heard of them, or their impressions have not been good, Lefevre said. The aim of the festival is to build awareness of the local product, as well as to encourage processes that would improve its quality. Such as harvesting at the right time.

Value-added products such as Czarnecki's oil are an important part of the mix, he said.

Jason Peel, executive chef at Roy's Waikiki, was one of those Czarnecki visited, bearing bottles of oil. Peel said he likes the idea of working with a U.S.-made oil. “;It was aromatic. I thought it was really nice.”;

The oil sells for $30 per 5-ounce bottle through http://www.oregontruffleoil.com. Czarnecki says it can be used in all kinds of pasta sauces and risottos; drizzled over vegetables, meats or seafood; stirred into melted butter, mayonnaise or cream cheese.

“;How great is it, at 58 years old,”; he said, “;to be able to bring something to people they've never had before?”;