Jill Barth | Special to USA TODAY 10Best
The Willamette Valley is known for top-notch wines and gorgeous natural landscapes, and all of that style is infused into one of the most exciting culinary scenes in North America. Here are 10 of the top spots to explore the flavors, ingredients and talents of the food wonderland that is Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Getting hands on with foraging
Inspired by an ancient Burgundian tradition, the winemaking team at Antica Terra Winery in Dundee offers guests the unique experience to gather river rocks to “top-off” a release for which the harvest is so limited that it can’t fill a single barrel on its own. Guests also forage for chanterelles, fiddleheads, oxalis and other edibles, followed by lunch in the forest.
For those who prefer to enjoy the goods without the gathering, visit Sokol Blosser Winery. The chef prepares unique dinners with elements cultivated or found on the winery property in the Farm and Forage dinner series.
Explore farm-to-fire food
The culinary team at Tournant creates seasonal meals in the slow food tradition, and guests get to experience it all – from open-fire cooking classes to nature immersion adventures and lifestyle retreats. Full moon dinners in partnership with local wineries and a four-day feasting and rafting trip on the Rogue River are some of the current offerings, which change with the season.
Experience South Willamette wine country
Surrounding the city of Eugene, the southern portion of Willamette Valley wine country offers more than 20 tasting rooms – some of them are in town, while others are scattered throughout rural and natural settings. You’ll find everything from the regal property at King Estate (home to the largest Biodynamic® certified vineyard in North America) to the family-style welcome on the patio at Sweet Cheeks Winery & Vineyard.
Dine out in Newberg
USA Today 10Best readers voted Newberg one of their favorite Small Town Food Scenes, “sitting squarely between the farm and your table,” according to its motto. The town attracts some of North America’s most talented chefs, including a fair share of James Beard nominees. And for social proof, look at reservation and review apps to select from a bounty of restaurants that are top-rated by discerning diners.
For accommodations, book a room at The Allison Inn & Spa and sample superb farm-to-table dining at Jory Restaurant, where local purveyors and products are elevated.
McMinnville’s foodie scene
This town is known as the “heart of Oregon wine country,” thanks to its Yamhill County location between Portland and Salem. There are more than enough top-quality restaurants, and many of them host some of the country’s most coveted winemaker dinners. Once a year, McMinnville Wine + Food Classic is the place to be to meet dozens of Oregon wineries, chefs, bakers and breweries.
Slip into Salem
Salem calls itself “the most Oregon part of Oregon” where quirky dining spots meet tap and tasting rooms with personality. According to a report from Travel Salem, 90% of visitors participated in the culinary scene during their time in the region.
“Top Chef: Portland” experience
Bravo TV positioned the 18th season of “Top Chef” in Portland, one of the most hallowed dining cities in the Pacific Northwest. Even if you didn’t see the show, the farm, markets and restaurants featured here make a delicious Oregon road trip. Highlights include Bauman’s Farm & Garden, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Gathering Together Farm. These were all filming locations, yet some didn’t make the final cut, so you can get an insider look at some interesting places.
Eating local in Eugene
Located in the South Willamette Valley, Eugene is known for innovation and college sports. But any visit there will prove that this city has agricultural and culinary action too. Check out the Lane County Farmers Market each Tuesday and Saturday to get a feel for what’s in season. Enjoy the vibrant downtown scene for a selection of international and Pacific Northwest restaurants, many of them local or family-owned.
To see the artistic side of the city, grab a coffee and pastry from Noisette Pastry Kitchen and self-drive Eugene’s mural and street art collection.
Wineries that exceed expectations
Sometimes the best place to try new culinary experiences is at a local winery, and one of the Willamette Valley’s finest resources is its deep viticultural history. There’s everything from the award-winning tasting room at Stoller Family Estate, featuring small plates and wine education with a view, to Elk Cove Winery’s multi-day gourmet Food and Wine Rafting Trip. If you want to imbibe at multiple wineries, book a Willamette Valley Wine Tasting Tour with America’s Hub World Tours.
Discover Willamette Valley truffles
Take part in the only event of its kind in North America, the Oregon Truffle Festival. Based in Eugene, the experience includes chef dinners, tastings, classes and educational opportunities. The Willamette Valley is also home to the Joriad North American Truffle Dog Championship, in which dogs of all breeds show off their truffle hunting skills.
Want to try it for yourself? Black Tie Tours offers a personalized truffle hunt experience, featuring a picnic and local wines to top off the afternoon.