There’s just something about truffles — the earthy fungi, not the chocolate — that is all at once irresistible, seductive and perfectly paired with everything from scrambled eggs to pasta to cheese to beer.
Foraged by hand (or with the help of truffle dogs) from the ground in the shade of Douglas fir trees each fall and winter, wild black and white truffles are a quintessential Oregon agricultural product that have only recently been discovered by the culinary world.
After all, Oregon’s climate is perfectly suited for their growth, so it’s become the epicenter of truffles outside of Europe, where they’re rooted in centuries-old French and Italian traditions. Mycologists at Oregon State University are also leading global developments in truffle research and cultivation methods. And food innovators here understand and embrace the truffle’s delicate seasonality.
The 13th annual Oregon Truffle Festival, Jan. 25-28 and Feb. 16-18, 2018, is a time to celebrate all of that. Tickets are already on sale for dozens of events throughout Oregon wine country in Newberg, McMinnville and Eugene.
Thousands of people from Oregon and beyond — both truffle connoisseurs and the truffle curious — attend each year to participate in dinners, tastings, demonstrations, workshops and foraging events.
At the Fresh Truffle Marketplace in Eugene or Newberg, you can sample fresh Oregon truffles and local wines, graze on artisan foods for sale, watch truffle cooking demos and get inspired to try it at home — and tickets are just $20.
For $12, you can see the world’s most talented truffle dogs race to find truffle-scented targets at the 4th annual Joriad Truffle Dog Championship on Jan. 25 in Eugene.
The Grand Truffle Dinner in Eugene on Jan. 27 is a six-course wine-paired feast for 300 people in a full French-service grand ballroom. “We sell out every year,” says Charles Ruff, festival culinary director. “We stayed with that formal dining event as a capstone to help establish the pedigree, to prove to the world Oregon truffles have their place at the table next to their European cousins.”
Other events are three-day immersive adventures, like the Terroir of Truffles in Newberg, which includes several truffle and beverage paired feasts and lectures and “sensory tours” by experts including Ken Forkish, owner of Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Trifecta Tavern and more in Portland.
A star-studded lineup of award-winning Oregon and regional chefs will also be part of the events to showcase the versatility of truffles, including Seattle’s Edouardo Jordan; Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place; Cathy Whims of Nostrana; Naomi Pomeroy of BEAST and dozens more.
But the festival is more than just a huge tasting event. It’s about demystifying this playful wintertime ingredient, which has recently been popping up on more menus around the state. Oregon chefs used to receive unripe truffles that were largely raked from the forest floor. Now truffle dogs are the preferred foraging method, which means truffles are unearthed at their peak of ripeness. The happy result is a higher quality of truffle on the plate.
January’s festival is timed during the overlap of seasons for black and white truffles; Ruff sources about 150 pounds for the festival each year. Once they’re gone, they can’t be fermented or preserved like produce; they can’t be frozen like meat or seafood. They can be infused, but only in limited quantities.
“Once you pull that truffle out, it’s a living, breathing organism but it’s starting to die,” Ruff says. “You put a timeline on that lifespan and you’ve got to try to find a way to use it.”
That’s where the festival collaborations come in. Back with rave reviews is a Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery truffled hazelnut stout.