This past weekend I was back in Eugene for the 4th annual festival (I was giving a talk on truffle cultivation) and it was like seeing a new industry emerge before my eyes. Remember the heady days of the dot.com era? That's the kind of excitement around truffles right now—and not just in foodie circles. Big-idea thinkers in medical research, economics and private investment came together at the festival to plan what they imagine will be a huge future for truffle in America, whatever the current economic situation may be.

The 264 guests at Saturday night's Grand Truffle Dinner devoured Oregon truffles by the pound. The next morning, hundreds more visitors to the festival's Marketplace sniffed egg-sized truffles from the local woods, tasted foodstuffs such as savory truffle shortbread (imagine God's own Cheez-It) and swirled Willamette Valley pinot noirs said by their makers to exhibit "truffle-y" notes.

Another triumphant report came from festival co-organizer Charles LeFevre, founder of a company that grows and sells tree saplings with truffles on their roots. A truffiere he planted 7 years ago for clients in northern California has started to bear. All the clients need now is a trained dog to locate the buried treasure. "We know there are truffles," said the expectant farmer. "We can smell them. We just can't see them."

The list goes on: Dr. Marvin Hausman, M.D., a medical researcher whose resume includes developing drugs for major pharmaceutical companies, is now interested in the antioxidant potential of truffles and is already selling a proprietary mushroom-based nutraceutical called Mushroom Matrix. There was even a slick young consultant on hand, a sure sign of an industry coming of age. Robert Chang's American Truffle Company offers guidance to investors who want to launch a truffle business—in return for a 30% equity stake in
the new company.

Photos: field, Charles LeFevre; close-up, Georgia Freedman.