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 and pasta to cheese and 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 quintessential Oregon agricultural products that have in recent years been discovered by the rest of the culinary world.
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 annual Oregon Truffle Festival, typically held sometime January through March, is a time to celebrate all of that. From year to year, there may be dozens of events throughout Oregon wine country in Newberg, McMinnville, Eugene Corvallis and surrounding areas.
Scores 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 and 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.
In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, you can see the world’s most talented truffle dogs race to find truffle-scented targets at The Joriad™ Truffle Dog Championship in Eugene. There’s even a two-day truffle dog training, which sells out quickly.
The Grand Truffle Dinner in Eugene is a six-course wine-paired feast for hundreds of guests in a full French-service grand ballroom. “We sell out every year,” says Charles Ruff, the festival’s former 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.”
Previous events like Terroir of Truffles in Newberg include all the tasty main events for one price. Other packages like Grape and Grain in Eugene have featured the immersive culinary tours and events.
A star-studded lineup of award-winning Oregon and regional chefs have also helped to showcase the versatility of truffles. Past and present culinary collaborators have included Rocky Maselli of Pizzeria DOP in Eugene (and cofounder of Marché); Sarah Schafer of Coopertiva, an Italian food hall in Portland; Stephen Hagen of Antiquum Farms and 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 has sourced 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, like La Truffe, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery’s truffled hazelnut stout.