By Jenie Skoy
A few weeks ago, I feasted on Oregon truffles at the Oregon Truffle Festival in the Willamette Valley: the damp, ferny, mossy region in Oregon famous for sweet, rosy pinot noir and mysterious truffles!
Willamette Valley Vineyards hosted a "truffle dog training seminar" (the only event of its kind in North America, say the organizers!) and 18 truffle hunters and their canines spent a weekend in truffle training in forests where truffles lay.
Here's a video of Martha and her Dog Saylor!
Dog owners were able to observe the handling and training of skilled truffle dogs, and to introduce their dog to the scent of both Oregon and French black truffles. This two-day event began in the classroom, with lectures on canine scent detection and fundamentals of scent training then ended in a forest seeded with truffle spores!
I wonder how, after these dogs have gotten a whiff (and taste) of truffles, they'll ever be satisfied with dog bones again!!
Compared with Europe, Oregon's truffle industry is young and undiscovered.
"Secrecy pervades the world of truffles and is a part of their mystique, but it has not served Oregon’s truffles well, as secrecy precludes development of the knowledge necessary to bring the real potential of the Oregon truffles to market. Simple details like how to choose and handle a truffle to tease out its grandeur are known to only a few harvesters and chefs." says the Oregon Truffle Festival Website.
Above is loveable Finn, a Lagatto Romagnola, the breed with sharp senses known for their truffle hunting acumen. His owner, Holly, adopted him from the Dordogna region in France famous for wine, truffles and truffle hunting. Finn dug up the truffles, but had a problem giving them up. "His biggest problem is that he eats the truffles!" said Holly.
Digging up Oregon's White Gold! Willamette Valley Vineyard's winemaker Don Crank was in the forest to help truffle hunters.
These Oregon white truffles were dug up by a cute cocker spaniel puppy at Willamette Valley Vineyards.
This cute German Shepard dog, Sahalie, or "Holly" for short, or what her owner called her: "Turd Bird," was one of the best truffle hunters in the forest that day, in part because her owner runs a obedience school in Oregon City and she was so well-behaved.
Saylor , above, takes a moment to pause between truffle hunting. At this point, she was more interested in the roasted chicken in her owner's pocket!
This scene felt a little Red Riding Hood-ish with the wolf-like dog and young girl in a magical forest filled with truffles!
After the truffle hunting, we met in the dining room at Willamette Valley Vineyards for a truffle-infused lunch cooked up by executive chef at Timberline Lodge, Jason Stoller Smith.
Sinclair Philips, owner of Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island has a childlike fascination with truffles. Look at how his eyes light up!
Sinclair is a Slow Food Convivium leader in the Northwest. His soup will just have to wait until he's finished photographing a handful of black truffles.
Here's Sinclair talking up Willamette Valley Vineyard's wine at the dinner!
A few hundred dollars worth of these addictive fungi!
Artist, photographer and truffle sniffer, Douglas Gayeton, was in our neighborhood to research ideas for his book Lexicon of Sustainability
The perfect Oregon dish! Jason Stoller Smith, executive chef at Timberline Lodge cooked up this delicious Oregon lamb with black truffle stuffed lamb breast, black truffle parsnip puree with rootbeer and truffle gelees and chervil and grape gremolata.
Imagine our joy when they passed around whole truffles and grater!
FYI: Next week, Rex Pickett, the author of “Sideways,” the book that helped fuel the popularity of pinot noir wines will be in Portland to talk about his new book, “Vertical" in which characters Miles and Jack head to Oregon to taste some wines at vineyards like Van Duzer. Here's a link to Sideways
Stay tuned for PART TWO of my Oregon Truffle adventure, plus videos of the truffle dog training!
Cheryl Crumbley, marketing director of Lane County's United Way smells bing cherries in her glass of Willamette Valley Vineyard's pinot noir at the Grand Truffle Dinner in Eugene last month.