Truffles have a culinary mystique that pairs well with Oregon’s reputation for stellar artisan food, drink and outstanding quality of life. While Oregonians pride themselves in the state’s approachable food scene, truffles bring a whole new “haute cuisine” element to Oregon’s casual and friendly vibe. Truffles are an ideal complement to the state’s fine wine, restaurant, hospitality and travel and tourism industries.
Where to Find Truffles
Oregon’s native culinary truffles are gathered from Douglas fir woodlands (Oregon’s state tree) throughout the Willamette Valley and the valleys of the Coast Range. Although native northwest species are found from northern California to southern British Columbia, they are most abundant in Oregon and are widely known as Oregon Truffles. “Old World” Truffles, known as the Perigord variety, are found mostly in France and Italy. However, the first Perigord variety was recently found in Oregon.
According to the North American Truffling Society, one can find truffles in North America by, “raking the organic litter away with a 4-tine garden rake. Find suitable habitat (most any forested area) and gently peel back the litter layer (remember to replace the litter when you are done and try to leave the area as you found it). Look for things that look like little potatoes, often beige, yellowish or reddish brown. If you find one it will be immediately apparent that it is not a dirt clod. Finding truffles takes a little luck and a lot of patience.”
However, truffle hunting can be tricky as most prime truffle land is privately owned. Visitors are encouraged to join a local truffle association foray or search with a local expert from organizations such as the North American Truffling Society in Corvallis, Oregon Mycological Society in Portland, or the Cascade Mycological Society in Eugene.
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Oregon Truffle Festival
Since January 2006, Eugene has hosted the annual Oregon Truffle Festival. Created to celebrate Oregon truffles as they reach the peak of ripeness in their native soil, it is the first festival of its kind in North America dedicated to sharing the experience of the chefs, foragers and fans of Oregon’s wild truffles.
Each year, the festival features three days of cultivation seminars, truffle hunting excursions, winery tours, truffle-themed dining experiences local restaurants, a marketplace, public lectures, and a Grand Truffle Dinner. In past events, about two-thirds of participants have been from out of state, many coming to Oregon for the first time.
The Economics of Truffles
According to a feasibility study, “Oregon Culinary Truffles: An Emergent Industry for Forestry, Agriculture and Culinary Tourism,” by David Pilz, Charles Lefevre, Leslie Scott and James Julian, annual global truffle commerce is expected to exceed $6 billion within the next two decades, rivaling many other agricultural commodities traded worldwide. With adequate support, cultivated and native truffles produced in Oregon could annually exceed $200 million in direct sales income; counting secondary economic benefits, the value of the industry could exceed $1.5 billion. Oregon has the climactic conditions required for truffle productions. Given the high demand for truffles, Oregon has a unique opportunity to become a leader in this rare, highly-prized commodity.