Foraging in Oregon: Mushroom and Truffle Hunting with Executive Chef Benjamin Nadolny

March 07 2013

Foraging in Oregon: Mushroom and Truffle Hunting with Executive Chef Benjamin Nadolny

King Estate Executive Chef Benjamin Nadolny moved to Oregon eager to forage in the state’s lush forests. With it’s moist and mild climate, the Willamette Valley provides the perfect environment for fungus to fruit. The mycelium works as mycorrhizal, creating a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees. Chef Nadolny started out hunting morels and chanterelles, then once he met local fungi expert Joe Spivack, he began to look for white truffles. Spivack has been providing The Restaurant at King Estate with locally foraged fungi since its inception. “Joe’s commitment to providing the best mushrooms from the woods plays a great role in the quality of our food at King Estate,” Nadolny said. “Joe helps me enrich the lives of my cooks by taking them on truffle forays and expanding their knowledge on the subject of mycology. This is important to us because most of our staff are culinary students and continuing their education is a part of our job.” Last year’s long, dry summer was perfect for the development of the grapes at King Estate, but not so great for fungi growth. It was an especially bad year for chanterelles, but that didn’t stop Nadolny and Spivack from looking for them.

Recently, the two went on a truffle foray at a top secret location near the winery. It’s on private land that Spivack has acquired permission to hunt on. “White truffles have a relationship with the trees,” Spivack said. “They really like to associate with young Douglas Fir trees, which is the most common tree in the Willamette Valley.” A good place to look for white truffles would be in a young Douglas Fir forest (10-30 year old trees) that was planted on land previously used as pasture, because it doesn’t have existing fungi that would compete with truffles. “It’s best to hunt with someone who has some experience, who can tell the difference between truffles and other underground fungi that are not edible,” Spivack said. It’s also important to be careful not to wander onto private property without permission. Gently rake a thin layer of pine needles and soil in a prime spot, and keep a look out for the delicate white truffles.

At King Estate, we celebrate Oregon food culture. Oregon white truffles are something Oregonian’s are proud of as Italians and French people have their own species of truffles. Locally foraged mushrooms and truffles are especially tasty when paired with Oregon wine. “The earthy, pine aromas of the chanterelles and porcini are nicely accented by the fruit and spice nuances of our pinot noir,” said Nadolny. “Shavings of raw porcini and white matsutake have a lighter, woodsy flavor that brings out the crisp apple and pear flavors of our pinot gris. A mushroom tastes best when the purity of the texture and flavor are preserved, which also makes it better to pair with our wines. Sometimes that might include just a light sauté and a splash of reisling, or a slow braise into a rich ragout to serve with a cabernet. Porcini, White Matsutake, and truffles we usually serve raw, shaved fresh, or coated with a touch of olive oil. Our morels we cooks with a little bit of butter fat, a rich olive oil, or cream to bring forward the nutty richness of this delicious spring mushroom.”

Currently, the restaurant is shaving white truffles fresh over the frisee salad with duck confit. Next week, the culinary team will be shaving them over confit asparagus with a quail egg. During the peak season they were offered complimentary over every dinner entrée.