As the first dish made its way around the continuous rectangle table, the savory scent of Truffles wafted from table setting to table setting like a hungry game of telephone. With lights low and a moving rumble of chatter like our anticipating stomachs, the dishes were ready…the musky truffles waiting.
The Oregon Truffle Festival, a three-day phantasmagoria of foraging, food and fantastic wine, was held this year in Eugene, Oregon from January 27-29, 2012. Celebrating the wild and native Oregon Truffle, the festival features grand meals served up by top chefs, dog training seminars, truffle forays, cooking classes and truffles galore.
Welcoming all the festival participants to Eugene, the event kicked off in true truffle style with a glorious opening dinner, themed eloquently One Big Table. Based around the recently release book by Molly O’Neil “One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking,” the dinner revolved around uniting the guests for the traditional American gathering, sharing a meal and its gourmet goodness like a family.
Hosted at the Emerald Valley Golf Course and Resort just south of Eugene, the dinner set the mood with low lights, shimmering stemware and in fitting style one large rectangular table stretching around the room. With around 150 guests, the room quickly filled with a low excited hum for our first taste of truffle.
Additionally as part of the Truffle Festival and the One Big Table dinner, the festival hosted a truffle recipe contest. With over 50 entries the top recipes were reduced down to the top three, which we had the joy of tasting this evening.
Dish 1: Parsnip and Celery Root Soup with Shaved Oregon White Truffles and Pomegranate Arils
This first dish was a soup that dreams of made of. With a creamy, thin broth and silky texture, the soup featured a rich yet not overwhelming flavor highlighted by pomegranate arils that contrasted the truffle with a pop of tartness. Leaving a fantastically smooth, almost windblown, lick-your-lips film like a delicious truffle lip gloss, this dish lingered heavenly as the last spoonfuls disappeared.
Complimenting perfectly, Coleman Vineyards’ Estate Pinot Gris 2010 balanced the truffle essence of the soup with its citrus structure, light body and clean texture.
The recipe was crafted by Merry Graham from Newhall, California. Her soup ended up winning overall for best dish by a vote of all the dinner attendees and she was my top choice as well. Find her recipe on the Oregon Truffle Festival website to give it a try yourself.
Dish 2: Black Truffle, Venison Ravioli with Three Onion Reduction
The second dish of the night introduced the first protein pairing with the native mushroom. The delicate, ravioli square with light pasta coating and soft, oily meat showcased a less obvious truffle flavor. Using the savory mushroom as more of a garnish that slowly built upon the senses with each bite, the venison with syrup-like consistency broth balanced its saltiness with this growing flavor.
Also served with the Coleman Vineyards’ Pinot Gris, the ravioli brought out a less citrus profile in the wine instead highlighting an almost grassy quality.
Recipe by Pam Norby from Amery, Wisconsin
Dish 3: Pacific Rockfish “Brandade” with Fresh Oregon White Truffles
A triangle of stacked ingredients, this dish featured a trifecta of complimentary and contrasting flavors. The rockfish, which was pureed with crème fraiche and potato and then mixed with the fresh white truffle, was spongy and light with a very subtle flavor. Sandwiching the rockfish, a refreshing crisp cucumber and a red, peppery gelatin triangle, the garnishes livened the fish with a variety of flavors that fought on the palate.
Unfortunately the wine stayed with the same Pinot Gris which was overwhelmed by the flavors of this dish for me.
Recipe by Erika Kerekes from Santa Monica, California
Starting with the three top truffle recipes, I didn’t think the meal could get better, but was I wrong. Bringing in Chris Czarnecki, the chef for The Joel Palmer House Restaurant in Dayton, Oregon, the festival blew my mind with this amazing entrée. A meal that easily takes top marks for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.
Coming out in waves by the chefs, staff and students of Lane Community College’s Culinary Institute, the meal additionally was as beautiful as delicious. Forming a trophy of superbly cooked meat, the white truffle infused filet mignon with Pinot Noir and black truffle veal demi-glace was tender to the point that it melted in your mouth – I never understood how a meat could do this under now; but that was nothing compared the mash potatoes, which literally just disappear as soon as their buttery, truffle infused flavor tipped your tongue.
Accompanying the filet, vegetables with white truffle polonaise and white truffle powder, which offered a lovely light crispness to contrast the protein.
Served with the main entrée for the night was Coleman Vineyards’ Reserve Pinot Noir 2008. This deep, cranberry red wine with aroma of forest leaves and musky dark cherries featured a flavor profile of earthy tones. Finishing with hints of cinnamon and black licorice, the Pinot Noir was a tad harsh alone but once paired with the food mellowed to fit with the rich flavors.
After so much rich food and wine I wasn’t sure if I was up for dessert, but then the plates rolled out and the sweet scent enveloped the room blending with the truffle aroma and I could almost feel my stomach instantly rearranging to find a little extra space.
Plated for the last savory bites, the meal dished up a meringue of white truffle and grapefruit with roasted banana and black truffle cake, honey syrup and a dollop of strawberry and white truffle relish with warm beurre noisette.
I first sampled the white, sweet meringue with its soft peaks. Alone the fluff was way too sweet after the super savory meal but once paired with the grapefruit wedges, the citrus cut the sugary quality and left my mount feeling fresh almost like pink citrus mouth rinse. Followed by the banana, truffle cake, which was like Christmas all over again, by my second bite I was all in for the dessert and slowly entering the blissful post meal coma.
Amazingly this dessert also paired well with the Pinot Noir from dinner. At first I thought the servers crazy for topping off my glass, but the forest leaves and deep dry flavor actually countered the dessert without either item out blasting the other.
With each outstanding taste the long table burst with delicious exclamations until the final bites and sips were savored closing the first evening of festivities.