As January comes to a close, a damp, potent perfume settles over Eugene. No, it’s not winter rains or reefer madness—it’s the annual Oregon Truffle Festival. On January 25, enterprising farmers and worldly gastronomes will flock to Eugene for a weekend of tasting, learning, and foraging in North America’s freshest stash of truffles.
Oregon truffles are fixtures on local menus but lack the celebrity status of the famed version from Piedmont, Italy. Among the world’s most expensive pleasures, Italian truffles are prized for their intensely musky aroma, with nuanced notes of honey and nutmeg. Historically, the rap on Oregon’s truffles has been that because voracious local truffle-dealers have raked immature, odorless spores from our forests’ shallow-rooted Douglas firs, our regional varieties have often lacked the signature flavors and aromas of Italian truffles.
But with the wild persistence of foragers, Charles Lefevre and Leslie Scott are determined to change this perception with the Oregon Truffle Festival. Over eight years, the festival has enlivened every nook of the industry, drawing scientists, foodies, and foragers, schooling growers on the details of cultivation, and even training truffle-honing dogs to sniff out the ripe, pungent treasures hidden underground.
For this year’s three-day truffle blowout, some of Portland’s top chefs will unlock the secrets of the prized ingredient in a series of dinners. One features Irving Street Kitchen’s Sarah Schafer, who explores truffles’ many facets on her Southern-inflected menu, whether infused into salts, steeped in oils, or shaved over steaming bowls of cheesy grits. In preparation for the festival, Schafer offers up three such ways to stretch your truffle dollar with heavenly, high-minded finger food.
A Guide to Oregon Truffles
With strong pineapple notes and a hint of chocolate, the Oregon black is perfect for desserts as well as savory dishes, steeped in heavy cream and puffed into soufflés, and can be found from December through May.
Winter White Truffle
Available December through February, the Oregon white gives off nutty, shallot notes that sing beautifully when shaved into omelets and starches like pasta or potatoes. At a mushroom symposium in 1977, James Beard declared them as good as their pricey Piedmont counterparts.
Spring White Truffle
Almost identical to the winter white in appearance, this spring variety grows from May through July, but is often overshadowed by the seasonal morel rush.
Forage in the City
A treasure map for Portland’s finest fungi
Fresh truffles are available at many local farmers markets in the winter (keep an eye out for the Peak Forest Fruit booth at the Hollywood Market), and at gourmet specialty stores like Pastaworks and, occasionally, New Seasons.
Most truffle oil is made from unnatural synthetic compounds. Look for Oregon White Truffle Oil, foraged and bottled at the Joel Palmer House Restaurant in Dayton, available at New Seasons, Zupan’s, Whole Foods, and many other specialty stores.
Some of the country’s best truffle salts can be found at the Meadow, N Mississippi Avenue’s salt emporium.