THE ELUSIVE ART OF TRUFFLE HUNTING
By Autumn Waite
A centuries-old tradition & a timeless delicacy.
White truffle oil, truffle risotto, truffle cream sauce- truffles are one of the most luxurious ingredients featured in so many of the dishes we love. It’s no secret that this expensive ingredient is the showstopper in many European fine dining cuisines. The reason for truffles being so pricey? They are incredibly hard to find.
Truffles have been enjoyed as a delicacy for centuries, the earliest recorded mention of them dating back to around 23-79 AD. Much appreciated by the Ancient Romans and Greeks, this hard-to-come-by fungus has been enjoyed for ages. Truffles are a type of fungus that grow on the roots of trees, native to Italy, France, and the Pacific Northwest. Having to fight with the trees they attach themselves to for the nutrients in soil, they aren’t heavily concentrated. What’s more, these spores only grow when soil conditions- temperature, pH, etc.- are just right. Many farmers have attempted to grow truffles in controlled environments, however they have had little luck cultivating these fungi. Even if the environment for these truffles is perfect for growth, they take decades to cultivate before they can be harvested. So, most of these delectable growths are found the old-fashioned way.
While it is possible to find truffles on one’s own, the best way to find these fungi that grow underground is by using specially trained truffle hunting dogs. Dogs can be taught to sniff out the pungent aroma of truffles with ease. For years, truffle hunters used pigs to find the spores, as they had excellent noses for the truffles. However, the pigs’ hooves were too harsh on the ground and roots of trees the truffles grow on, not allowing them to grow back in the same place. Pigs are also more likely to eat the truffles than dogs, as the scent of the truffles resemble the scent of a pheromone found in boar saliva. Italy banned the use of pigs to find truffles in 1985, and dogs have been the norm for truffle hunting ever since. Some of the breeds best known for their truffle hunting skills include the Lagotto Romagnolo, English Springer Spaniel, Brittany Spaniel, and various breeds of pointers and setters.
As these spores are extremely rare and very expensive once cultivated, people have been known to purposely poison truffle hunting dogs to ensure a better chance at finding the truffles themselves. Illegal dealings of the fungi across the world are also common. The world of the truffle trade is a cutthroat one, so the next time you see a truffle forager, be sure to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the tireless art of truffle hunting.
There are quite a few excursions one can take in Italy and France to experience truffle hunting firsthand. In a world so acclimated to technology and modern farming techniques, it is refreshing to see traditional methods for trades such as truffle hunting be carried on today, and we applaud those, human and canine, who work hard for the reward of a timeless delicacy.