All of us at Orox, in our different ways, are fascinated by traditional ways of working and making things. Even though we’re fully part of the 21st century, we spend our days handcrafting leathergoods, often using the same techniques as our grandfather and great-grandfather. Perhaps that’s why we were so intrigued when we learned about Hound Found Oregon and its truffle-seeking chocolate lab, River. Hound Found Oregon is a small business, run by Jason and River, devoted to the ethical and sustainable harvest of wild mushrooms, particularly truffles. (Full disclosure: we couldn’t resist gifting River a Classic Collar. We wish her years of good use, happy hunting and overall canine enjoyment.) 

River the truffle-seeking dog

Their website explains: “With lots of help from our canine truffle detector known as River, we harvest only ripe Oregon Black and Oregon White Truffles. Only Earth ripened Truffles reach their peak potential and the only way to locate Truffles when they reach this stage is with the help of a dog or a pig.  Unlike a random raking method used by some harvesters, Hound Found Truffles have no impact on the rootlets of precious Northwest trees. We respect land owners and private property and do offer locating services to establish the presence of edible truffles.”

Searching for mushrooms, particularly, truffles with the help of a dog is an old, old way. Harvesting in this way does not harm the mushrooms, so it’s truly a renewable resource! Perhaps what is most appealing is that this is an instance in which the old, traditional way is still the best.

River and Jason Swindle

A recent article in The Guardian explains how River and Jason work together: “The hunt proceeds with a steady rhythm. River studiously follows her nose to a spot where she starts pawing and scratching at the dirt. Swindle, following close, rushes in before she can accidentally carve the fungus to bits with her flailing paws. He then sifts the earth with a dessert spoon.

Almost every time, he finds one or more ripe truffles, which range from the size of a pea to that of a new potato. Swindle adds the new finds to a zip-lock bag that fills up steadily and replaces the disturbed litter. Then River darts off through the pines in search of more.”

Truffle hunting

The few times I’ve been mushroom hunting with friends who know more than I do, I have absolutely loved it. Walking off-trail through beautiful, rugged Oregon forests and paying extremely close attention to what is underfoot is a wonderfully different sort of experience. Your center of attention and gravity shift and you become quite attuned to subtle distinctions of color and shape. There is a thrill to the hunt, even though the mushrooms don’t move (well, not fast enough to pose any difficulties).

There is then a different sort of pleasure when you’re back at home and it’s time to carefully verify the day’s haul – you want, after all, to be super sure about what you eat. Presuming you’ve gotten some edible mushrooms, you get to cook them up and eat them, preferably with friends and family.

River the truffle-seeting dog

Mushrooms are absolutely packed with flavor. Hound Found notes of the Black Truffle that: “Aromas and taste vary from person to person, often described as fruity or cheese like. Its culinary uses are endless, enjoyed fresh grated on pastas, eggs, rice, and used to infuse salts and oils.” And the Oregon White Truffle (Tuber oregonense) is “new to science as of 2010 and occurs only on the west coast of the United States from British Columbia to Northern California, west of the Cascade Mountains. This truffle is often first described ‘a complex of garlic, spices, cheese and indefinable other essences.’”

We’re sure looking forward to following the adventures of River and Jason as they explore the wilds of Oregon in search of edible mushrooms. Happy wanderings and buen proveccho!

February 26, 2016 — Mark Feldman