For Tualatin-based truffle foray leader Mike Madrid, Oregon truffle hunting was a natural fit with his other outdoor loves: crabbing and clamming, fishing, mushrooming, and pheasant hunting. Of course, it also helps that he loves wine and good food, and his truffles have a place of pride at his table.
The dogs he’s had throughout his life are companions for many of these activities. After his 14-year-old lab passed away, he and his wife talked about whether to get another one. “I told my wife that I’m a better person with a dog in my life,” he said.
His wife wanted a dog with minimal shedding (which is a hallmark of the Lagotto Romagnolo’s soft, wooly coat), and since Mike is half Italian, they started looking at Italian breeds. “The more research I did, the more I found Lagotto Romagnolos,” he said. “So in 2013 we got Massimo as a 10-week-old puppy.”
Lagotto Romagnolos were just being introduced to the states back then, but because Madrid had spent years mushrooming, he had heard of Oregon’s truffle industry and they started Massimo on truffle training right away. They added a few drops of truffle oil onto his food, and then started truffle hunting in the backyard. Madrid had originally gotten involved with the Oregon Truffle Festival to simply learn more about truffles, but when the festival offered a truffle dog training class in 2014, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take Massimo’s training to the next level.
Madrid and Massimo quickly became a star truffle foraging team. Since then, Madrid and Massimo have led forays for the Oregon Truffle Festival both in Eugene and closer to Madrid’s home turf in Newberg. Madrid and Massimo have hunted on private land with inoculated trees, and Massimo has even found black perigords.
When Madrid is out in the woods with Massimo, he said, the best part is simply watching him work.
“It’s really, really enjoyable to watch the dogs doing what they are meant to do,” he said. “They’re happiest when they’re working and Massimo is a really hard worker. He loves being in the woods so much that when he gets to the gravel road he starts to pace because he knows what he’s going to get to do.”
Madrid said Massimo loves truffle hunting so much he’ll keep going all day, so Madrid has to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t overdo it. Once home, Massimo gets his well-deserved rest and Madrid gets his well-deserved truffle feast.
Cooking with Fresh Oregon Truffles
Madrid cooks with ghee, the clarified butter. Once the milk-solids are removed from the ghee, he infuses it with sliced truffle, which can even be done successfully with frozen truffles.
“The ghee never lasts very long when I make it with truffles,” he said with a laugh. “The fun thing about ghee is that you can use it in so many different things. It has a higher smoke point than butter so you can do more with it.”
He infuses butter and cream, which he uses to make his most favorite treat: truffle ice cream. “Truffle ice cream is one of the best things there is, both white truffle or black truffle ice cream,” he said. “We make that every year.”
Truffles get shaved atop pasta, of course, and eggs get cooked with the ghee. But Madrid also enjoys panettone, the Italian sweet holiday bread, toasted and spread with truffle butter with some finely shaved truffles on top. “It’s delicious,” he said.
Enjoy the Feast at the 2020 Oregon Truffle Festival
For others who love food and wine, the Oregon Truffle Festival is a place where both of those loves come together. We may not yet know what the menu will be at the 2020 Grand Truffle Dinner (tickets still available), but we know it will be good. This is the place where chefs from the Pacific Northwest, who understand how delicious truffles can be and the many things you can do with them, combine the finest Oregon truffles with their culinary skill to create an unforgettable six-course meal paired with Willamette Valley wines.
Tickets are also now on sale for the 2020 Joriad, on Thursday, January 23.