Family - Pets
By: - at August 13, 2013

How To Teach Your Dog to Hunt for Truffles

White truffleAlthough they look rather like contorted potatoes, truffles are a well-revered delicacy. Indeed, connoisseurs of the food find that its flavor easily trumps its appearance when it is added to soups and sauces as well as a variety of entrees. In fact, truffles are so prized for their earthy and savory taste that they can cost as much as $2,000. Rare varieties are priced at over ten times that amount. For example, an Italian white Piedmont truffle can cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.

Where Truffles Grow in the World
While many truffles are harvested in Italy and France, they also are found in wooded areas in the U.S., the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Western Australia. Besides the Italian white truffle, the black truffle from France is also noted for its distinctive taste and tang. To maintain the integrity of the delicacy, trained dogs or pigs are used to scent out the fungus.

Trained Dog Hunting Truffles With Master
Trained Dog Hunting Truffles With Master

In the U.S., the state of Oregon is a well-known source for truffles, where they can be worth as much as $150 per pound. The truffles in this area grow below-ground among Douglas firs. Texas is home to truffles as well, with the Tuber texensis being the truffle of choice in the Lone Star State.

How Truffles are Used in Cooking
Used in Middle Eastern, French, Italian, Greek, and Spanish dishes, truffles are grated or scraped into soups and sauces or onto entrees before the food is served. Chefs prepare chicken, fish, omelettes, soufflés, and rice and pasta dishes with the aromatic shavings.

Tagliatelle With Summer Truffle
Tagliatelle With Summer Truffle

Black and white varieties of truffles are notably high in amino acids and protein, which makes them a favorite indulgence among well-heeled vegetarians. The non-fattening delicacy contains iron and is a significant source of fiber and carbs too.

To fully enjoy a truffle, you should eat it uncooked right after it is harvested. Because the flavor subsides quickly, time is of the essence when you’re savoring the tuber-type mushroom.

Ravioli With Herbs and Sliced Truffle
Ravioli With Herbs and Sliced Truffle

White truffles should never be cooked as the heat will cause them to quickly lose their taste. However, you can lightly sauté slices of black truffles and insert them into meats.

Truffle Trivia
Truffles are categorized according to their taste, smell, and appearance with many fungi classified by location. Italian white truffles notably have the strongest smell and range from a walnut to a small red potato in size. If not eaten immediately, the aroma and taste will dissipate after a couple weeks.

Veal Filet Mignon with Truffle Mash
Veal Filet Mignon with Truffle Mash

When they are harvested, truffles are found about a foot beneath the ground, with the mycelia, or vegetative part of the fungus, appearing close to the roots of a tree. Reproduction occurs when animals eat the prized tubers and scatter the spores.

Truffle Hunting: Using Hogs and Dogs
Female hogs are often used for truffle hunting activities in France as the odor of a mature truffle smells much like the pheromones that are produced in a boar’s saliva. Therefore, if you’re not careful, a truffle-hunting sow can quickly gobble up the mushroom once it is found. Pigs are often hard to control once they catch a whiff of the scent.

Truffle Hunting in Tuscany's Maremma
Truffle Hunting in Tuscany's Maremma

As a result, some truffle hunters prefer to use dogs to hunt for truffles instead. Unlike a hog, dogs do not have the same capacity to detect a truffle’s scent. However, they can still be trained for the task. Plus, they can also be taught not to eat up your truffle profits during the process.

The Lagotto Romagnolo: A Well-recognized Truffle Hunter

The Lagotto Romagnolo is well-recognized for the truffle-hunting role. A rare breed, the medium-sized dog hails from Italy. The working canine features a curly, dense coat and comes in a range of tones and shades, including white, brown, tan, and black.

The following video profiles the Lagotto Romagnolo and shows the breed at work hunting for truffles.

Dogs that are Trained for Search-and-Rescue Activities are Often Good Truffle Hunters

While the Lagotto Romagnolo is indisputably the best dog to use to hunt truffles, a number of dogs can use their keen sense of smell to find the underground fungi too. The same attributes that make a dog helpful in search-and-rescue activities will enable him to sniff out and find the treasured mushrooms.

Therefore,dog breeds that are quick learners in this regard are German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, and the Belgian shepherd dog. The Dachshund and Miniature Poodle have proven to be reliable in hunting truffles too. In some cases, hunting or sporting dogs are used for truffle hunting activities. However, the scent of prey may make them less focused in the pursuit. It just depends on the temperament of the animal.

Teaching a Dog to Hunt Truffles
To train a dog to truffle hunt, wave a piece of strong-smelling cheese under the dog’s nose. Italian blue cheese is a good choice for this purpose as its smell is very close to that of a truffle’s scent. Condition the dog to the activity by burying the cheese in the ground. Once he finds the food, reward him with another treat.

truffles arranged on white background

Next, introduce a very small truffle along with the cheese to your dog and bury both the cheese and truffle together. Once he finds the two pieces of food, start training him with just the truffle. When he becomes acclimated to the routine, you’re ready to take him out to scout for buried treasure.

The most propitious time for truffle hunting is when the ground is moist and warm, or about two weeks after a rain. Truffles are primarily found under pines, firs, birch trees, beeches, oaks, and hickory trees. They can also be located in shaded spots where chipmunks or squirrels have dug. Once the dog discovers the delicacy, examine it closely and slightly squeeze it. The hue of the fungus should be lighter rather than darker and its surface should be relatively smooth. Discard any finds that do not meet this description, or which are not soft or uniform.

The following video features a truffle hunt in Western Australia using dogs:





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