Connie Green, longtime forager and owner of Wine Forest Wild Foods (French Laundry is a client), was one of the featured speakers, and there was the usual fast-paced agenda of lectures, forums, gastronomical heroics, plus a few hours in the field to get dirty, breath in some of that misty Willamette air, and work off all those calories (okay, maybe not all of them) during a guided truffle foray.
Silvan Ridge Winery in the bucolic Lorane Valley and helmed by Jason French from Ned Ludd in Portland and Shiloh Ficek of Red Hills Market in Dundee, kicked off with a Pinot Noir barrel tasting and continued with one of the best dishes of the weekend, a robustly truffled Chicken Liver Mousse (pictured at left) that was perfectly paired with a J. Scott Cellars Roussanne. Ficek told me he was a little nervous about the mousse because usually he made it in smaller batches, but the smooth texture and well-balanced accent of white truffle turned out just right.
We got back to the hotel at 4 p.m., with merely two hours of down-time before another feast of even greater proportions, the Grand Truffle Dinner. After taking photos of the first course, which stretched nearly the length of the room on two long prep tables, I went to get my seating assignment and was delighted to find myself next to Clare and Brian, the husband-and-wife team behind Big Table Farm and Wine in Gaston, Oregon. Let me tell you, this was like winning the lottery—like doubling your money in Vegas. Besides the very generous pours (and more pours) that accompanied each course during the meal, the Big Table duo had smuggled in several of their own bottles to share with their tablemates. A big happy table indeed.
Olympic Provisions in Portland (pictured at left) that boasted perhaps the most intense truffle experience of the weekend: slices of white truffle-infused saucisson (i.e., dry-cured salami) along with Jamon York, Mortadella, truffled mustard, and some simple yet exquisitely pickled beets and onions. Another winner, dreamed up by Nick Balla from Bar Tartine in San Francisco, was an umami bomb of sablefish, sunchoke, and Kabocha squash, its white truffle broth so good that I saw guests tipping their plates back to drink in every last drop.
A scent of truffles hovered through the ballroom as the dinner went on late into the night and a jazz combo tried to play over the sounds of active silverware. There was much imbibing, and then, late-night, I found myself among a group of revelers laying siege to a 1988 Champagne Fleury while plotting foraging expeditions of the future. Good times.
The Oregon Truffle Festival is held the last weekend of January. I've already blocked out the dates for next year.