It may look like a Labradoodle, but the lagotto Romagnolo is actually an ancient dog breed, carefully selected and bred for its ability to sniff out truffles. Though rare, a handful of lagottos live in Eugene, and now they and other breeds have a chance to strut their stuff. For the first time ever, the Oregon Truffle Festival is holding The Joriad North American Truffle Dog Championship, a sporting event for dog lovers and truffle fans alike.
The Joriad, an event unique to the Oregon Truffle Festival, is named for Oregon’s state soil, Jory, which provides favorable conditions in which truffles can grow. “It’s a celebration of Oregon at its very roots,” says Charles Lefevre, co-founder of the Oregon Truffle Festival, which is in its 10th year.
The competition will take place over two days, starting with qualifying trials open to nonprofessional truffle dogs of all breeds at the Oregon Horse Center. Dogs will sniff out truffle-scented targets, and the top 10 competitors will move on to the second day of the championship, when truffle dogs will scour the forests in a field trial.
In some ways, truffle dogs have helped boost the reputation of Oregon truffles, according to Lefevre. The festival promotes truffle dogs because they can only find truffles when they are ripe and releasing an aroma. This means that truffles found by dogs are in prime condition — the alternative method is raking the ground, which results in gathering both ripe and unripe truffles.
“The dogs’ primary role is not to find the truffles, but to choose which truffles are ready to harvest,” Lefevre says. “As a result of our using dogs, and chefs being impressed by the results, the price of Oregon truffles has gone from $100 per pound to $600 per pound for dog-hunted truffles over the life of the festival. Raked truffles bring in about $200 per pound.”
Any dog breed has the potential to become a truffle-hunting dog, Lefevre says, although some are better than others. The festival has long provided truffle-hunting classes for dogs, and Lefevre says that one year a pudgy miniature dachshund was the star performer. Lefevre’s dog, a chocolate lagotto Romagnolo named Dante, learned to find truffles when he was only 10 weeks old by getting treats for sniffing out truffle oil-scented objects in Lafevre’s backyard.
Lefevre says around 35 dogs will compete this year, and there’s still time to register your greenhorn truffle dog at oregontrufflefestival.com. The qualifying competition on Wednesday, Jan. 21, is open to the public at the Oregon Horse Center, 90751 Prairie Road; tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the door.
Limited tickets are available for The Joriad Awards Gala and Dinner on Jan. 22; see the festival’s website for more information.