Ahhh, truffles. King of all fungi. One of the most expensive foods in the world. Redolent of forest, musk, compost and aged cheese, they are uniquely funky and unlikely to win any beauty contest based on appearance alone. But…the brain floods with dopamine as soon as you catch the unmistakable whiff of a ripe truffle nugget. Pupils dilate and thoughts turn impure. Salivary glands kick in as your mouth awaits connection with that distinct scent. Truffles are transformative, bordering on magical.
I am really lucky that we don’t live too far from the bountiful Willamette Valley, annual host to the incredibly well-coordinated Oregon Truffle Festival. OTF celebrates native Oregon truffles and wines at their finest. Packages for the weekend-long event include gourmet meals with all the wine you can handle, winery visits, opportunities to learn about and participate in foraging, dog training classes (dogs are ideal for truffle hunting since they don’t eat them upon discovery like pigs do), cultivation seminars and cooking lessons. One nice detail: Busses take participants everywhere so you don’t have to worry that you always have a glass of wine in your hand. The festival is put on by Leslie Scott and Charles Lefevre of New World Truffieres, a company specializing in truffle cultivation and controlled inoculation of oak and hazelnut seedlings with a range of culinary truffle species.
For me, OTF is a shining beacon during the grey Seattle winter and a grand way to start the new year. This was our third time attending and I appreciate the work that goes into each year having different themes, chefs and menus; it’s enough to keep us coming back for more and bringing food-minded friends with us. This year the festival weekend was inspired by the book One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking, and the opening act on Friday evening was hosted by its creator Molly O’Neill, James Beard award-winning author and former New York Times food writer. One Big Table is the nation’s community cookbook, the result of Molly’s journey of more than 500,000 miles across the U.S to discover why we eat what we eat. As part of the ongoing effort to gather and preserve American recipes and food stories, Molly, with her friends and colleagues, are building One Big Table Across America, a series of large and small events that “celebrate American home cooking, support local agriculture, and prove that community begins when people gather around a table to eat, drink, talk, laugh, think, and dream”–all things that resonate strongly with me.
OTF is one of the best food experiences I’ve had the good fortune to attend, and I’ve been to a lot of them. In the spirit of sharing some great food porn and maybe convincing you to attend with us in the future, let’s dive into this epic food and wine journey, shall we?
Celebrating One Big Table, amateur chefs were invited to submit original recipes for a recipe contest featuring the native Oregon white and/or Oregon black truffles. Three finalists were chosen by a panel of chefs associated with the Oregon Truffle Festival, and their recipes were interpreted by Chefs Jack and Chris Czarnecki of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Oregon, which is famed for its mushroom and truffles dishes. Weekend participants (that’s us!) judged the three dishes and voted on which one best represented the Oregon truffle.
Our three starters were paired with a 2010 Pinot Gris from Coleman Vineyards, which had a nice, balanced honey finish.
(I apologize in advance for the quality of these next few pictures, as the dining hall was dimly lit and I don’t use any fancy photo equipment.)
First up, Parsnip and Celery Root Soup with Shaved Oregon White Truffles & Pomegranate Arils, submitted by Merry Graham of Newhall, California. It wasn’t the most photogenic of foods, but it was delicious:
Second and third came Pacific Rockfish “Brandade” with Fresh Oregon White Truffles (left), submitted by Erika Kerekes of Santa Monica, California and Oregon Black Truffle Essence Venison Ravioli Poached in Three Onion Broth (right), submitted by Pam Norby of Amery, Wisconsin:
I did notice the absence of shaved truffles on top of all three dishes, something that’s de rigueur for the weekend, so that took me a little by surprise. Regardless, my favorite was the ravioli; I’m a fan of venison and thought the dish was done well.
The main entrée of the evening was a Chef Chris Czarnecki creation, served with a 2008 Coleman Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir: White Truffle Infused Filet Mignon with Pinot Noir and Black Truffle Veal Demi-Glace and Vegetables with White Truffle Polonaise and White Truffle Powder (whew!). I have no idea how they make white truffle powder, but it provided another layer of truffle-y goodness to the dish and added a nice color and texture contrast:
Dessert was created by Chef Chris Crosthwaite and students from the LCC Culinary Institute. Truffled desserts are hit and miss for me, but I thought that of all the dishes of the evening, this one represented well. This is a Meringue of White Truffle and Grapefruit, Roasted Banana and Black Truffle Cake, Honey syrup, Strawberry and White Truffle Relish, and Warm Beurre Noisette:
I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: The audience voted for the soup (1st dish). Congrats, Merry!
In all honesty, I was a little disappointed with the Friday evening meal. Perhaps I was spoiled by the 2010 OTF Friday evening that featured a friendly competition between Oregon’s own Rocky Maselli and French Chef Jacques Ratier (I still recall his Duck Confit from the Grand Dinner in 2010–the absolute best duck I’ve ever had). Each course was double your pleasure during a cook-off between chefs Maselli and Ratier. The audience that evening voted Rocky the winner. It was a very tough call; both chefs offered inspiring and imaginative dishes that stand out in my mind to this day. That evening would be tough to beat for anyone.
We purchased tickets for Experience Two (The Gourmand), which always sells out quickly because it includes lunch at the Pfeiffer Vineyards, home to extraordinary hosts Robin and Danuta Pfeiffer. If you’re ever in the Willamette Valley, I highly recommend you drop by for a tasting and say hello. The Pfeiffers produce some beautiful boutique wines that are only available at their tasting room and events, and they’re a lot of fun to hang out with. This was our second visit with the Pfeiffers and they always have great stories to share, expertly crafted wines to sip, and terrific food to highlight a few immensely pleasurable hours.
The lovely Pfeiffer Villa:
Robin sharing some vintner secrets:
Lunch this year was prepared by Maurizio Paparo, Chef and Owner of Excelsior Inn and Ristorante:
We kicked things off with a Pfeiffer Chard and crostini with white beans, wilted spinach and marinated peppers:
Our main dish was an outstanding Lamb Ragout with Sweet Potato Gnocchi, served with the exclusive Pfeiffer Blue Dot Pinot Noir:
In true Italian fashion, salad came next. This was a simply dressed Arugula Salad with Shaved Black Truffles that let the truffles shine, and it was served with the Pfeiffer Grey Cat moscato-white blend. Here’s the salad being prepped:
And here’s the salad up close and beautiful:
We finished the meal with a divine Creme Brulee with Truffled Cream and Black Raspberry Coulis, served with straight Pfeiffer Moscato. Hungry yet?
I adjusted my belt and got ready to take a little break to go foraging for truffles. We had some help from a trained truffle hunting dog and her owners. We didn’t find much but it was still fun to dig around. And the sun was out! The best part of the truffle forage is that you get to keep what you find.
Food drunk and quite content, we boarded the bus back to the Hilton, took a little nap, and then got ready for the Grand Truffle Dinner. You’ll understand why we needed a nap in a few minutes.
Saturday Evening – Grand Truffle Dinner
The Grand Truffle Dinner is the pièce de résistance of the entire weekend. We got all gussied up and amazingly, were ready to eat again by the time we checked in for dinner.
The sheer logistics of this dinner blow my mind. I’ve coordinated a few events in my time, but nothing on this scale and nothing this sophisticated. Every dish arrives beautifully prepared with shaved truffles on top, at the perfect temperature, and picture-worthy. I love that courses were plated right in the dining room, so nerds like me could get this photo-op:
And away we go!!
First Course: Celery Root and Black Truffle Panna Cotta with Dungeness Crab Salad and Parisian Pears. Prepared by Chef Stephanie Pearl Kimmel of Marché. Served with Patchwork Cellars Pinot Gris, 2010:
Second Course: White Truffle Scented Red and White Quinoa in a Creamy Risotto Style with Riesling Poached Egg, Shaved Coppa, Wild Winter Herbs, Lemon Thyme Emulsion and Shaved White Truffles. Prepared by Chef Robin Jackson of Sooke Harbour House. Served with Love and Squalor “Fancy Pants” Riesling, 2010. This was my favorite course–that egg was poached just perfectly:
Third Course: Oregon Black Cod with Black Truffle Aioli and Shaved Black Truffles, Braised Winter Greens and Black Truffle Polenta. Prepared by Chef John Newmann of Newmann’s at 988. Served with Willamette Valley Vineyards “Founders’ Reserve” Pinot Noir, 2008:
Fourth Course: White Truffle Roasted Beef Short Rib with White Truffle Potato Puree, Salsify, Cured Egg Yolk Salad and Beet Jus. Prepared by Chef Josh Feathers of Blackberry Farm. Served with Seufert “Johan Vineyard” Pinot Noir, 2009:
Fifth Course, Dessert: Apple Brandy Advocaat with Black Truffles, Hood River Apples, Iberico de Bellota Panceta Ahumado, Cider Gelee, Yogurt Biscuit, Pine Nuts and White Truffle Snow. Prepared by Jason Stoller Smith of Timberline Lodge. Served with Capitello Late Harvest Riesling, 2009:
These chefs all deserved a huge round of applause!
As if all that decadence wasn’t enough, we still had Sunday breakfast and the Truffle Marketplace to look forward to.
Sunday breakfast is a “serve yourself” affair, but yes, there are truffles at breakfast too. This year we enjoyed a truffled leek quiche, smoked salmon, hand carved ham, and truffled potatoes:
After breakfast, we checked out the Marketplace which has free samples of all things Truffle, wine, local foods, cooking demonstrations, lectures and book signings. We picked up some black and white truffle butter, a bag of dried porcini, a bag of beautiful black trumpet mushrooms, my favorite olive oil from Red Ridge, and a few fresh truffles to have fun with back at home. Charlie Lefevre and crew were on hand with some giant French Black Perigord truffles:
And I mean GIANT Perigord truffles…he even let me hold one!
In case you missed it:
You know your goods can sell themselves when you can just scribble the price on the nearest piece of scratch paper.
So that wraps up the weekend! If you’re still with me, you deserve a prize for your hearty attention span. I’ll say it again–this is one of the best food events out there. If you’ve never been, you should definitely go. I actually think the weekend packages are great values, considering the caliber of food and high quality, all-you-can-drink wine that greets you at every turn. This is a really fun event to attend with friends, so grab some fellow food geeks and we’ll see you there!
p.s. Truffles are the gift that keep on giving. When we got back home, I stored them with some eggs, arborio rice, and butter. I didn’t believe that the truffle fumes could penetrate the egg shells, but they really do! Fat is a magnet for truffle essence…there’s so much to experiment with. I love that we can not only spoil ourselves with fresh truffles shaved on food, but we’ll also have eggs, butter and risotto to enjoy later: