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Truffle hunting
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There’s truffles in them Washington hills! Train your dog to truffle hunt in the PNW

While trotting through the verdant ferns and mosses in a Stanwood, Washington forest, Alana McGee’s dog Lolo sniffed out a black truffle.

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“When she finds a truffle she will scratch and paw at the ground and then, ideally, she’ll point it out with her nose to us. Then she immediately looks at my bag of chicken to get a treat!”

McGee owns Truffle Dog Company. She teaches dog owners to train their dogs to be truffle hunters.

“Really any dog can do this,” McGee said. “We’ve trained everything from tiny, four pound Chihuahuas to big, Burmese mountain dogs. There also is a breed traditionally used in Italy for truffle hunting. They’re called Lagotto Romagnolo. They look like Doodles, they’re a very old breed, they’re sweet. I have two.”

She also takes people out on foraging adventures and sells truffles to local restaurants. Personally, I had no idea that we had truffles in Washington. But there we were, just an hour north of Seattle, only a few paces off the road finding truffle after truffle.

“They are everywhere,” said Aiko Vail, whose German Sheppard, Cowboy, sniffed out a bag of black truffles in less than an hour. “Mainly on this side of the Cascades, on the Olympic Peninsula, down in the Shelton area, Centralia, Longview. Everywhere you have a certain type of doug fir at a certain age.”

There are black and white truffles in western Washington, hiding just beneath the forest floor. But they look exactly like clods of dirt or rocks, so without a dog they’re hard to hunt down.

“There are some people who go out into the forest and look without dogs,” said McGee. “It’s called raking and when people do it they sometimes pull a ton of the duff — the top layer of the soil — away and they don’t replace it. Aiko and I have been to places where the soil has been totally stripped away and it’s really damaging to the environment. It can really erode the habitat, damage salmon streams, all that kind of stuff. The other thing is, when you rake for truffles you get some that are ripe and some that are unripe. Chefs throughout the country, until pretty recently, didn’t necessarily have a great opinion of truffles coming out of the Pacific Northwest because they’ve always been given this mixed bag of quality. So when we use dogs to find truffles, they’re only finding the ripe truffles. So we don’t find as many but the quality is much, much higher.”

If you’ve not been lucky enough to smell or taste a truffle, they’re very earthy, very pungent, chock full of umami with a slightly sweet note. Truffles are in the mushroom family and the Pacific Northwest variety have a symbiotic relationship with Douglas Fir trees.

McGee gave me a bag to take home and taught me how to use the truffles to infuse foods.

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“Truffles give off this amazing aroma and it binds with anything with fats or alcohol. So cheese and butter and eggs and all that good stuff. So you take a stick of butter, put it in a sealed container with the truffles sitting right next to it, not touching but right next to it. And all of that yummy aroma will [seep] into things like butter and then you can use that later.”

Throw some truffles into a container next to a few raw eggs and within 24 to 36 hours the truffles will permeate the shells and infuse the yokes. Whether you scramble them or make a quiche, the dish will taste of truffle. Then you can get fancy and shave more truffle on top.

I went straight home and infused a stick of butter and a block of sharp cheddar with truffles (it only takes about 24 hours) and used them to make the most delicious mac and cheese topped with thin slices of white truffle. I truffled a squash, I truffled an avocado. I’m currently truffling my stapler.

To connect with Alana for classes, click here.

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