I knew that pigs are used to hunt for truffles, but not dogs. So when I learned that there is a particular breed with the innate ability to sniff out the esteemed fungi, the Lagotto Romagnolo.
I was lucky enough to join in on a truffle hunt in Burgundy, home of the Burgundian truffle (Tuber aestivum). A different species than the more well-known black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) which grows in the Perigord region, the Burgundian version is equally delicious (I recommend it thinly sliced in a simple salad of garden-fresh lettuce and vinagrette, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on them!).
Truffles can be cultivated, in a sense, by taking advantage of the symbiotic relationship between the truffles’ mycelia and the root system of certain types of trees, such as cedars, oaks, and hazels. If a grove is planted in the appropriate soil conditions (the Burgundian truffle prefers calcarious soil types), the mycelia, or underground component of the fungus, will follow the roots of the trees as they grow up (providing the appropriate shaded and forested conditions), establishing the necessary conditions for truffle production.
The truffle hunter can attempt to search for the prized fungi by himself, but as they are often present as deep as 30 centimeters below the surface, he isn’t likely to have much luck alone. Luckily, he has several tools available at his disposal – pigs, dogs, and flies. The difficulty with pigs and dogs is that they must be trained not to eat their spoils. But this is likely a simpler task than keeping track of your fly!
Though this hasn’t been a great year for truffle hunting, with the help of two canine noses we managed to walk away with a decent harvest!