Oregon's truffle treasure

Chefs love them. Dogs dig them. But the greatest thing about Oregon truffles? They taste best right here at home
Ted Katauskas

In the past 40 hours, I’ve been treated to savory truffle panna cotta, truffle venison ravioli, white truffle–scented quinoa, Oregon black cod with truffle aioli, filet mignon infused with the essence of 60 pounds of truffles, and, for dessert, Hood River apples in a pool of black truffle apple brandy and dusted with white truffle snow.

“I think of the Oregon truffle as sort of a Cinderella story,” says Charles Lefevre, cofounder of the Oregon Truffle Festival, now in its eighth year. “It’s this gem that has not yet received its grand debut. Very few people recognize its value, because it’s rarely been seen in its full splendor.”

Tell that to the mob of people who took over the ballroom at the Hilton Eugene yesterday. I watched as a crowd rushed a purveyor of local truffles, the buyers sniffing glasses full of Oregon whites and the fruitier Oregon black truffles before coughing up big cash. At a booth staffed by waiters from Marché—a French bistro in Eugene where the previous night I’d feasted on black-and-white truffle tagliatelle, and black truffle–dusted duck liver mousse—there was a run on white truffle cheese puffs. Across from a chocolatier rolling Belgian chocolate truffles in Oregon black truffle–infused salt, a man hawked 5-ounce bottles of Oregon white truffle oil—the only domestic truffle oil in the country—for 30 bucks a pop.

I change out of my muddy boots and drive to Pfeiffer Winery, in Junction City, for a four-course truffle lunch billed by festival organizers as A Villa Afternoon. I’m greeted by vintners Robin and Danuta Pfeiffer, whose Mediterranean-style villa is perched on a hilltop nourishing a rich vein of Oregon whites. Robin entertains guests around a long table cluttered with plates and wine bottles, while Danuta banters in the kitchen with chef Maurizio Paparo.

Paparo, of Eugene’s Excelsior Inn & Ristorante, is a big fan of Oregon whites. He fixes me a plate of T. oregonense–infused lamb ragù, so tender it melts in my mouth, leaving behind a hint of earth that intensifies when the Pinot made from grapes born of the same ground runs over my tongue.

“It’s like falling in love once a year,” Danuta says, swirling a goblet of her namesake 2007 Pinot. “If you can find them, eat them. Smell them. Drink them. Love them. It’s an affair you can have year after year after year.”

MAKE IT A WEEKEND

Do. Splurge on Experience Three (The Culinarian) at the Oregon Truffle Festival ($750; Jan 25–27; oregontrufflefestival.com), a three-day immersion into the world of Oregon truffles, which includes a cooking class, a foraging excursion, and multicourse truffle-themed meals. Too much? The North American Truffling Society (natruffling.org) leads weekend forays for the public at no cost.

Eat. Arrive in Eugene before the fest and revel in the truffle-themed menu at Marché ($$$; 296 E. Fifth Ave.; 541/342-3612). Your bonus course? White truffle ice cream from Red Wagon Creamery (2777 Friendly St.; 541/337-0780). The two-hour roadtrip north to the Joel Palmer House ($$$$; 600 Ferry St., Dayton; 503/864-2995) is worth it for Mushroom Madness, a tasting menu dominated by Oregon truffles and other local fungus.

Stay. At the swanky new Inn at the 5th (from $159; innat5th.com), the staff totes iPads, and room service, provided by Marché, arrives as if by magic via a butler’s pass-through at your door. Or bed down in an old sorority house at the Excelsior Inn (from $99; excelsiorinn.com), where the owner, Maurizio Paparo, is also your personal chef.

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