Throughout February, wine enthusiasts are invited to celebrate Oregon truffles with Willamette Valley Vineyards.
Willamette’s Tasting Room & Restaurants locations in Lake Oswego, Vancouver, Happy Valley and Bend will feature truffle add-ons throughout the month, and the Estate in the Salem Hills is hosting a Gala Truffle Dinner as a part of the Oregon Truffle Festival (OTF). Tickets for the dinner are sold out, but guests can find a waitlist here.
The OTF is a nonprofit that seeks to educate the community and grow the Oregon truffle industry.
With the truffle harvesting season running through the rainier months, February is the traditional time to celebrate these delicacies.
What makes truffles special
For Executive Winery Chef DJ MacIntyre, though, truffles should be celebrated all year.
“One of the reasons I came down to Oregon was for truffles,” said DJ, who graduated from the University of Oregon and worked for Chef John Howie in Seattle before joining Willamette’s team in 2015. “I love mushrooms in general, and truffles take on a whole new realm of what they can do.”
Oregon is home to a variety of truffles that are equal in quality to their European counterparts, he said. Varieties of Oregon truffles include winter white, spring white, black and brown.
“There is a high quality of truffles the majority of the year, which allows chefs in the area to play with the flavors and Northwest ingredients,” DJ said. He added that the complexity of the taste and smell of truffles makes them extremely versatile.
Executive Winery Chef DJ MacIntyre
Pairing truffles and wine
Cooking with truffles can be as simple as sprinkling fries with truffle oil or as complicated as infusing eggs and cream for a decadent carbonara. Ingredients with a fat or oil base will pick up the aromas and flavors of truffles well.
Dishes featuring truffles pair perfectly with Willamette wines. For example, the earthiness in some truffles lends itself well to pairing with our Pinot Noirs.
“‘If it grows together, it goes together,’” DJ said, quoting a principle of wine and food pairings. Because of this, truffles can pair well with many Pacific Northwest ingredients.
When pairing a truffle dish with wine, DJ said it's important to consider the different flavors and qualities of the wine.
Oregon white truffles have more of a funky, garlicky taste, while black truffles are a little bit on the sweeter side. So a dessert featuring the sweeter, fruitier notes of a black truffle pairs well with our Domaine Willamette Brut Rosé and its strawberry and honeydew with citrus notes. Meanwhile, a white truffle-infused meat dish with more garlicky flavor would pair well with an earthy Pinot Noir.
The Oregon Truffle Industry
Willamette’s interest in the Oregon truffle industry goes beyond wine and food pairings.
“We're trying to build awareness that we have something that is a unique food product that comes from Oregon,” DJ said.
Oregon truffles grow naturally beneath Douglas fir trees. Hazelnut farmers can now innoculate their trees with truffles, an advancement in farming technology that could give them a secondary crop from their orchards and help increase the availability of Oregon truffles.
To help showcase the connection between wine and food, the root systems of cork oak trees planted at sparkling winery Domaine Willamette are inoculated to grow French black truffles.
Oregon Truffle Festival Founders Charles Lefevre and Leslie Scott with a pair of truffle hunting dogs.
Founder Jim Bernau and Willamette also support OTF and its legislative work. For instance, Willamette encourages truffle hunting by dogs as opposed to raking for truffles. DJ said dogs can smell ripe truffles and leave the unripe ones underground. Meanwhile, raking can disrupt topsoil, harm root systems and yield immature truffles.
The main goal is to educate the community and encourage best practices so Oregon can produce top-level truffles.
“The word is spreading,” DJ said. “Each of us is passing that torch so Oregon shines bright.”
Guests at the Estate in the Salem Hills can now take a seat at the Chef’s Counter for a tasting experience filled with wine, small plates and plenty of conversation. This communal experience offers guests a unique opportunity to interact with our Winery Chef as their food is prepared and plated.
“Guests rarely get a one-on-one interaction with their chef,” Winery Chef Jarred Henry said. “You don’t see that experience at a typical restaurant.”
The Chef's Counter communal experience seats eight guests.
Attendees can also engage with other wine enthusiasts at the eight-person counter nestled in the Estate Tasting Room as they enjoy a four-course small-bites menu. Current pairings include seasonal seafood with elevated wines and a Bananas Foster dessert paired with 2019 Domaine Willamette Brut. Please note substitutions and modifications may not be available.
Reservations are $60 per person or $45 for Owners and Club Members. The Chef’s Counter experience is available Monday through Friday at 2 pm and lasts around an hour and a half.
Your ticket cost will be credited to a 4-bottle purchase of featured wines or a 6-bottle purchase per couple.
What to expect
Chef Jarred said he’s excited for guests to try the unique pairings. The winter menu features Dungeness crab, halibut and more, paired with a mix of bold and lighter wines. The menu will change seasonally.
“I wanted to focus on textures and play on different temperatures of food and wines to create an intriguing movement on the palate,” he said.
Winery Chef Jarred Henry puts the finishing touches on dishes at the Chef's Counter.
The Chef’s Counter will offer an intimate setting for guests to learn more about the food and wine they’re enjoying.
A Winery Ambassador will guide attendees through the tasting experience and share stories about the featured wines. Guests will also have a passport to fill out tasting notes.
“We were looking for a really fun, energetic and engaging experience for our guests to interact with the Chef and Winery Ambassador,” Hospitality & Guest Experience Manager Kaylin Ray said. “It’s intended to spark conversation. I’m excited about the liveliness and energy it’ll bring to the Tasting Room.”
A lasting impact
The Chef’s Counter experience is more than just a tasting — it’s an educational opportunity too. Guests can take what they learn at Willamette with them to their next party or dinner.
“We’re going to walk guests through the pairings and they’ll be able to take that knowledge with them as they pair wines with special dishes at home,” Kaylin said.
The Chef’s Counter is approachable, she added. It’s perfect for both new and experienced wine enthusiasts.
With seasonal and local ingredients at the forefront, guests can also learn how our terroir influences both the dishes and wine.
“You’re not going to get this one-on-one experience anywhere else in the Willamette Valley right now,” Kaylin said. “It’s an opportunity to talk to the Chef, make friends, socialize and learn from top-tier ambassadors.”
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