Whispers of excitement filled the air as 300 people stood crowded in the foyer of the Hilton Eugene waiting to enter the Playwright Ballroom. This January, I stood among the crowd anxiously anticipating the beginning of the event, the Grand Truffle Dinner. For more than a decade, founders Charles Lefevre and his wife Leslie Scott have hosted the Oregon Truffle Festival in Eugene, Oregon.
Events at the Oregon Truffle Festival
Over the past thirteen years the festival has grown to incorporate more and more activities each year. This January 2018 proved to be the most expansive, and it included the Joriad North American Truffle Dog Championship Competition, the Oregon Truffle MacDown, several elegant lunches and dinners, truffle dog training, a truffle growers’ forum, and a truffle marketplace. The event culminated with the extraordinary Grand Truffle Dinner.
Can you imagine a luxurious six-course dinner where the star ingredient is the elusive truffle? As I milled about among the dinner guests, waitstaff distributed glasses of 2011 Marilyn Brut Cuvée from Anne Amie Vineyards. The bubbly sparked the festivities, the doors opened, and we took our seats at assigned tables. SoulJazz Quartet featuring Chris Orsinger filled the air with background music, and William Hulings, serving as master of ceremonies, launched guests into an evening of decadent feasting and amusing entertainment.
Guests waited with aniticipation to be served one of the 300 plates, each one lined up on long tables at the front of the room like rows of military personnel standing at attention. The moment the chef and winemaker finished their elaborate descriptions, servers diligently delivered the next course. As the evening progressed, each one of the six dishes, impeccably paired with a delicious beverage, reached expectant diners.
Prior to the event, six chefs collaborated to create a harmonious meal highlighting Oregon white and black truffles while simultaneously working side by side with representatives from local Willamette Valley wineries and one distillery. During dinner each of the six chefs took the stage one by one with their creation and described its inspiration and ingredients.
The Grand Truffle Dinner
This truffle extravaganza was successful due to the fine chefs selected to prepare each course. The first course formulated by Chef Sarah Schafer from Irving Street Kitchen in Portland, Oregon, initiated the dining experience with a formidable underlying influence of Oregon white truffles. Chef Schafer’s version of salmon gravlax arrived cured in the traditional method with the addition of truffles. The salmon rested alongside the lightly buttered crunchy rye crackers enriched with truffles, and two truffle-infused sauces adorned the plate—a rich aioli and a stunning bright-red beet sauce. Attendees enjoyed this dish with the 2011 Marilyn Brut Cuvée.
For the second course we savored a cheesy Oregon black truffle fondue with multi-colored marble potatoes, coppa, sunflower shoots, and pickled shallots. Chef Edouardo Jordan from Salare restaurant and JuneBaby restaurant in Seattle, Washington, collaborated with Cooper Mountain Vineyards pairing the plate with their 2016 Pinot Gris.
Tablemates Can Turn Dinner Into Events
Who you dine with can make or break your dining experience by creating a fun and festive experience versus a stoic and pretentious one. My table, filled with alumni truffle diners from San Juan Island and one Joriad participant from Seattle, Washington, was delightful. Throughout the evening guests shared their personal truffle stories, which were informative and educational, often bringing bursts of laughter from tablemates.
Much of the conversation covered the pros and even a few cons of past events along with commentary on the plates at hand. John, the diner to my left and a longtime Grand Truffle Dinner aficionado, had great things to say about the 2018 event. He raved, “The dinners get better each year. This year they have really outdone themselves and have succeeded in getting the chefs to collaborate on a cohesive meal instead of each chef competing to prepare the richest dish possible.”
The third dish, prepared by Chef Shota Nakajima from Adana in Seattle, Washington, was comprised of a perfect delicately seared scallop with leek ash potato and an Oregon white truffle puree. The plate, decorated with punched beets, candied pecans, and shaved truffles splendidly paired with Lange Estate Winery 2015 Three Hills Chardonnay Cuvée.
The subsequent chefs ramped up for the second half of this fine feast, and the heavier dishes made their appearance. Chef Paul Virant from Vie in Western Springs, Illinois, and Vistro in Hinsdale, Illinois, worked hand in hand with Chef Carlo Lamagna from Magna in Portland, Oregon, a soon-to-open new Filipino-style restaurant. These two chefs dazzled guests with the fourth and fifth courses.
Course four, duck caillette, offered a traditional French meatball wrapped in caul fat to hold in the moisture. The meatball lay on top of a single slice of braised Walla Walla onion and came garnished with Oregon black truffle jus, preserved fruit, and a crown of shaved truffles. This savory bite was paired with a glass of 2014 Estate Pinot Noir from Patton Valley Vineyard.
The fifth course, utilizing one of my favorite ingredients, featured a decadent beef short rib seasoned with adobo. The rib nestled next to brown butter and Oregon white truffle sweet potato with an Oregon black truffle jus and pickles. The sweet potato component harmonized with the tender spiced beef. The dish married deliciously with a Soter Vineyards 2015 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir.
How do you finish a grand feast like this? Chef Kim Boyce from the Bakeshop in Portland, Oregon, fashioned a Mille-Feuille with layers of Oregon white truffle puff pastry and muscovado Oregon black truffle cream topped with a dried fruit compote. To enhance this picture-perfect light and flaky dessert, each diner received a shot of brown sugar bourbon served “neat” from Heritage Distilling Company in Eugene, Oregon.
When You Go to the Oregon Truffle Festival
Fresh truffles are a seasonal delight only available about three months during the wintertime. Don’t miss out on this indulgent feast and festival. Plan early to purchase your ticket and dream about savoring these short-lived delicacies next year at the Oregon Truffle Festival. Follow along on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for Oregon truffle updates. When you are planning your trip to Oregon, check out these Oregon experiences by Wander writers.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.