By Vanessa Salvia

Each year in January and February, truffle hunters across the United States start to get excited. In February of each year, we here in Eugene and surrounding areas get to enjoy The Joriad, the North American Truffle Dog Championship. The first round of competition took place on Saturday, February 10 at the Lane Events Center Large Animal Arena. Then, the finalists from that move on to the field competition, in which they actually go out to the forest to see who can find the most truffles within one hour. The winners were announced at Willamette Valley Vineyards in a special awards ceremony complete with the Parade of Dogs, wine, and truffle-infused food.

The Joriad is a combination name from Jory, Oregon’s state soil, and the Olympiad. The Joriad is the annual kick-off for the Oregon Truffle Festival, and it is the only truffle dog competition of its kind in North America. The competition starts with the first round in which spectators can watch dogs and their trainers compete to find hidden truffle-scented targets that are buried in soil on of the floor or the area. Dogs have 5 minutes to find 5 truffles, and the top five dogs who find five truffles the fastest move on to compete in the final round in the field, at a secret location outside Eugene.

The 2024 Joriad at Lane Events Center
When a dog finds a truffle, the observer raises their hand and marks the time. Shown is Becca Book and her dog Wilga, a 2-year, 10-month-old female wirehaired pointing griffon.

What Is a Truffle?
You’ll be forgiven if you think that the word “truffle” means a chocolate treat, especially when you start to hear people talk about truffles close to Valentine’s Day! Truffle hunting dogs are searching for the reproductive fruiting body of a mycorrhizal system. Truffles grow underground, on and around the root systems of trees. Oregon has four varieties of truffles that are considered edible, with the white truffle being the most common. When ripe, they do smell a little like gasoline, but when prepared, that aroma transfers to food and imparts an earthy taste to food. “They do smell a little more earthy when dried,” says Dr. Charles Lefevre, a mycologist and one of the founders of the Oregon Truffle Festival.

Truffles are typically not cooked but are shaved — very thin slices can be placed atop crostini or pasta, for instance, or their aroma can be infused into anything with fat, like butter, cheese, eggs, or avocado.

Finding Truffles With Truffle Dogs
In Europe, truffle dogs are almost always a breed known as lagotto romagnolos. With good training, any dog can become a truffle hunting dog. Dogs can be trained to sniff out the aromatic compounds of a ripe truffle underground. Harvesting this way is less damaging to the environment and to the truffles than harvesting through raking. Harvesting with dogs also ensures that more ripe truffles are found, rather than unripe truffles which can be unearthed through the non-nuances rake harvesting.

A truffle hunting dog finds a truffle in the Oregon forest. Photo by David Barajas
A truffle hunting dog finds a truffle in the Oregon forest. Photo by David Barajas

The Joriad 2024 Winners
Dogs from all over come to the Joriad to compete. For the second year in a row, all of the dog handler finalists were female! In 2024, the finalists were:

5th Place – Skye Olson and her dog Roawn, a 4-year-old male silken windhound
4th Place – Becca Book and her dog Wilga, a 2-year, 10-month-old female wirehaired pointing griffon
3rd Place – Sara Borok and her dog Vinnie, an 8-month-old male lagotto romagnolo
2nd Place – Ines de Pablo and her dog Skylar, a 5-year-old male chocolate lab mix
1st Place – Olga Marszal and her dog Harvi the Happy, a 7-year-old male golden retriever

Olga Marszal receives her 2024 Joriad 1st Place award on behalf of Harvi the Happy.
Olga Marszal receives her award on behalf of Harvi the Happy. Behind her are festival founder Dr. Charles Lefevre (right), executive director Leslie Scott, and Joriad lead organizer Kristina Leipzig (left).

When Olga took her 1st Place award, she told the story of Harvi, and how his full name is Harvi the Happy Dog Who Makes Other People Happy. Olga rescued Harvi from a destiny of being sent to the meat markets in China when he was just a few months old. She recalled how Harvi nearly broke down her pantry door to get to food, and she made a promise to him that he would never go hungry. That food motivation is partly what helps a dog become a good truffle hunting dog, because getting treats when they perform their job well is what encourages them to keep going. Everyone enjoyed meeting Harvi, who splooshed out on the floor of Willamette Valley Vineyards after a full day of activity.

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Willamette Valley Vineyards was the beautiful setting for the awards ceremony. This marked the first year that the awards ceremony had been held there, but owner Jim Bernau promised that it would not be the last. His executive chef DJ MacIntyre prepared a delicious fest using truffles harvested by Dr. Lefevre. His dishes included truffled French onion soup, flatbreads with truffled cured meats, a platter of truffle-infused cheeses, truffled mushroom crostini with pickled cherries, and cream puffs with truffle-infused cream.

Truffle-infused cream puffs
Truffle-infused cream puffs were part of the delicious menu at Willamette Valley Vineyards

Before the winners were announced, the participating dogs, plus the dogs of the trainers and the harvesters, who help find truffles for the festival’s events and dinners, get to “parade” through the crowd.

The 2024 Joriad Parade of Dogs
Harvi the Happy and his person Olga Marszal, and Gary the 3-year-old basset hound and his person Patrick Aquino “parade” through the crowd.

Truffle Festival Events

In addition to The Joriad, other Oregon Truffle Festival events include informative talks like “Truffle Farming A to Z,” a 2-day truffle dog training weekend, and the Gala Truffle Dinner, a special multi-course truffle dinner by Willamette Valley Vineyards chef McIntyre and Oregon Truffle Festival culinary director Charles Ruff.

Willamette Valley Vineyard hosted the finale episode of the 18th season of “Top Chef” which took place in Portland in 2021. It’s just an hour north of Eugene, right next to Enchanted Forest. It’s a beautiful location!

Sunset at Willamette Valley Vineyard
Sunset at Willamette Valley Vineyard