I should have known this wouldn’t be a typical food festival. There were dogs everywhere: riding the Hilton Eugene elevators, pacing the lobby, even practicing in a park across the street. Luckily, they were trained only to find gourmet edibles, not eat them.
These are truffle dogs, the working animals of choice for truffle hunters everywhere, and the Oregon Truffle Festival—held annually at the end of January in the bountiful Willamette Valley—was created to give them more work. The only pig I saw was a delicious cut of Pinot Noir–braised pork belly with white truffle jam, dried cherries and a frisée salad with raspberry-and-black-truffle vinaigrette.
Most food fanatics have heard of truffles, those intensely aromatic nuggets of underground fungi with a reputation for amour and cash outlay, but many don’t know that the Pacific Northwest is home to a few varieties that are increasingly competing with famous European truffles in restaurants across the land. The Oregon Truffle Festival, now in its eighth year, celebrates truffles in an action-packed long weekend of serious eating, guided foraging, workshops for dog trainers and truffle growers, and a high quotient of zaniness for the merely curious.
The Willamette Valley, with its vineyards and rolling green hills, is a gorgeous getaway in the dead of winter, and the people you meet at the festival are just the sort you want to share a meal with: They’re passionate about food, wine and travel, and are…a little bit different.
If you want to learn how to find or grow truffles, the Oregon Truffle Festival in Eugene is the place to start. It’s also the place to be if you simply want to devour obscene amounts of truffles.