Reading cascadia_truffles Instagram post started me thinking about the question Jason from Oregon asked on Instagram. He opens with:
“it is going on now. We will continue our protest until the events are over. Know someone attending events? Share this with them. Due to some disheartening news about an iconic truffle event using 25% canine located truffles, we will be taking a break from sales and service of truffles. It is our own small way to protest the way ‘experts’ in the NW industry continue to undermine the proper harvesting techniques and provide inferior products while charging exuberant amounts of money to participants. Know your produce, know your harvesters, don’t be mislead.”
And here we get to the crux of Jason’s comments …
“We are curious to know what our truffle counterparts around the world think about canine location taking a back seat to raking the forest floor for immature truffles? Feel free to let us know! Respect the fungus.”
Knowing nothing about raking as a harvesting method and being faintly appalled at the thought I decided to learn more about it.
Introducing the Rake
Rakes themselves vary but perhaps the most commonly used are a prosaic four prong cultivator‐style.
Where does Raking occur?
Seemingly in parts of the USA and China. I couldn’t unearth any evidence of its use here in Australia and I hesitate, although I’d like to say categorically it doesn’t happen. And likewise, it doesn’t appear to be in practice in Europe. But welcome any feedback!
Harvesting with Rakes
Raking for truffles appears to be as uncomplicated and simplistic as the action of raking the forest floor and unearthing truffles.
Immediately for me, numerous glaring problems leap to mind with this method; damage to the truffles, indiscriminate harvesting of ripe and unripe truffles and disturbing the ecosystem. You could perhaps throw into the mix devaluing the truffle market by the addition of inferior and perhaps inedible truffles.
And if the American truffles are anything like the tuber melanosporum we harvest, they do not continue to ripen after they’ve been harvested. Once they’re torn from their parent tree (she said emotively) their maturation process ends. Killed! Young and with so much promise!
For balance and to provide an opposing viewpoint – Oregon Native Truffles – Know Your Forest suggests:
“Some general rules for sustainable harvesting are to rake gently, keep raked spots to a few square feet in size, avoid raking deeply, be especially careful not to scar tree roots, space your test spots 15 feet or more apart, and replace the litter and duff in each spot you rake before moving on. Get into a rhythm, spend under a minute in each random spot, and you will be able to check/harvest a decent size area overall.”
As an aside: I do find the words ‘sustainable harvesting’ mentioned above somewhat of an oxymoron.
Harvesting with Hounds
I preface this with preference and confess this is my chosen method. In my opinion hunting with hounds has many advantages over raking. Dogs will notify you where truffles are located and can differentiate between unripe and mature fungi. There is negligible disturbance to the soil and the truffles themselves are ready to be carefully unearthed from their beds with minimal scratching or scarring. When extricated this way, the tree will often fruit again and offer up more truffles later. To me, this really is a ‘sustainable’ way to hunt. In fairness and trying to cast around for good points with the raking method, the only possible upside I can imagine using rakes is that perhaps it’s quicker – but then, at what cost?
Battle of the Rake
Judging from Jason’s comments earlier, there seems to be a fracas looming in parts of America between harvesters using rakes and those using dogs.
An article in Modern Farmer disingenuously states:
“It’s hard to not detect an element of classism in all this. Truffle hunting dogs can be expensive — it’s not unheard of to pay $4,000 for a prime Italian Lagotto Romagnolo (a dog renowned for its truffle-finding skills) and then pay $5,000 more to train them. Rakers, meanwhile, are usually more on the economic margins. “Tweakers are what we call them,” says one truffle dog trainer. “People on meth and getting money to support their habit. You have to be careful out there.”
It’s really not that elitist – we use a rescue dog which cost considerably less than US$4000 and nothing in the realms of US$5000 to train – admittedly chosen more from a dogitarian viewpoint than monetary. And you certainly don’t need a designer dog. Any dog can smell and hunt. You just need a somewhat obsessive dog who wants to! Although perhaps anyone who spends their time freezing on their knees clutching a kitchen knife in a frozen hand does have an element of ‘classism’.
The Battle Cry
But all name calling aside, after researching I have not changed my original stance except perhaps to become more appalled! I believe canine coutured (have I just made up a phrase?!) truffles are far superior (and sustainable) than raked truffles (it just sounds so careless!) and I’ll end with Jason’s battle cry, “Respect the fungus”!