Last year, for reasons we all know too well, there was no Joriad. No dog crowned the North American Truffle Dog Champion as part of the Oregon Truffle Festival. No Truffle Marketplace with long queues to taste items made with truffles and even longer queues to purchase truffles. This year though, the event returned to Eugene, Oregon. The Joriad is the name of a type of soil in Oregon, and it also is the name given to the truffle dog championship.
Winter is truffle season in Oregon, which means now is the time for truffle dogs and their handlers to find Oregon black truffles (Leucangium carthusianum) in our local forests. The Joriad is the only event of its kind that allows dogs the chance to show off how well they can locate truffles. Many truffle dog owners put a lot of effort into training their dogs and winning this event comes with a lot of prestige, even if not a lot of name recognition for non-participants. Dogs come from all over the country to participate in the Joriad, but this year, three of the five top finishers were from right here in Eugene, Oregon.
The Joriad starts off as an event in the horse arena of the Lane County Events Center. In the first heat, known as the Truffle Odor Recognition Trial, or TORT, tubes of truffle oil are buried in boxes placed in rows. Dogs walk along the rows with their handlers. Some boxes have truffle scent and some don’t. The dogs have to indicate somehow that they’ve found a truffle (scented tube), the owners alert the judge, and the judge confirms that indeed, the dog located a truffle there. Dogs can advance to the next heat, the Arena Hunt. In this event, instead of the tubes of scent being buried in boxes, they are placed throughout a large square buried in dirt. The handler has to guide their dog around the area to find as many as they can in the allotted time. Dogs who advance to the finalists then participate in a field hunt, going out into the actual forest to find them.
Truffles are not chocolate balls, in this case. They are fungi that grow underground. They have a unique aroma that dogs can be trained to identify. The dogs paw at the ground to indicate that they’ve found something. It behooves the trainer or handler to keep a close eye on the dogs, as some of the dogs might eat the truffles if they could get their hands on them! In other countries in Europe, namely France, truffles are hunted with pigs. Some unscrupulous truffle hunters rake the ground. Both methods harm the environment for the truffles to grow again. Organizers of the Truffle Festival prefer to use trained dogs. The Lagotto Romagnolo dog has been bred specifically to hunt for truffles, but any scent-motivated dog could theoretically be trained as a truffle hunter.
The winning truffle dog was Mia, a 1 1/2-year-old old Lagotto Romagnolo owned by Jonathan Taylor, of McMinnville. Mia found 35 truffles in 60 minutes. The top five finalist dogs were invited to Alesong on 5th on the evening of Thursday, February 17 for a Parade of Dogs and the announcement of the winner. Organizers said this year’s group of 31 was the largest they’ve had. Even though Mia found 35, they did not amount to as much by weight, as the 25 found by the second-place winning dog, Sasha, owned by Robert Keys.
For the dogs, the fun ended when the truffle food was served at Alesong — imagine the hilarities that would ensue if the truffle-trained dogs hurled themselves at the table of truffle-infused food! Guests got to enjoy wine along with food prepared by Provisions chefs that included truffle-infused deviled eggs, prosciutto and truffle oil on flatbread, and shaved ruffle on slices of foie gras (shown in top photo).