I’ve recently had an incredible morning truffle hunting in Alba, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. I found a local truffle hunter, Giovanni and his dog Pearla to take us into the woods, but as he doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Italian I’ve got a local guide Marco to interpret for us.
Although it’s not the season for the most prestigious white truffles, black truffles are in season which coincides perfectly with our visit.
Giovanni is a fourth generation truffle hunter with the craft being passed from father to son. He grows Muscat grapes, but supplements his income from truffles.
Pearla his gorgeous dog also comes from a long lineage of truffle hunting dog with good genealogy and is bred from Giovanni father’s dog. Giovanni started working with her when she was just 30-days old introducing her to the smell of truffles and simulating hunting experiences. He said Perala is the envy of many hunters as she is exceptional.
Pearla is desperate to get going, straining on her lead so we start walking into the woods. The white poplar trees are flowering shedding fairy like cotton snowflakes creating an ethereal feeling as they float to the floor of the valley like white carpet.
The shaded woods are compact with white poplar, willow, oak, and linden, however it’s difficult to know which root the truffle grows from as the root systems spread as wide as the trees are tall, with roots intertwined across the forest floor. The truffle grows on the finest tip of a root taking about two months to mature with their size dependent on the water supply, humidity and soil. When the truffle is mature it emits the distinctive musty, fungi aroma and if not hunted will regenerate back into the soil with the help of worms and snails or be hunted and eaten by pigs.
Walking through the woods we follow Giovanni who has a watchful eye on Pearla. With the scent of a wild boar she is off, however Govanni tells us pigs have not been used for truffle hunting for centuries despite their nose for the gold.
With Pearla back on the track she gets a scent. Her nose barely a millimeter off the ground, she recognizes the fragrance and digs into the side of the mossy bank. Giovanni runs to her side and takes over using his fingers to gently work the soil and massages the bulbous fungi from its fine root to ensure there is no damage to the prized find. Giovanni then fastidiously covers the hole spreading leaves and foliage to conceal the evidence from other hunters.
Black truffles are usually found about 10 cm deep in the soil, whereas white truffles can be anywhere up to 1.5 meters requiring meticulous chipping away at the soil with a spatula shaped tool. The fungi used to be measured by the kilogram, but today they are measured by the gram. In a good season Giovanni finds 3-4 kilograms of white truffles and substantially more black truffles.
At 400-500 euros per 100 grams for white truffles (the price fluctuates daily depending on availability) it is clear why secrecy is important with many hunters out before dawn and after dusk.
Our haul measured 90 grams with a market value of 60 euros, but had they been white it would be a different story.
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