Truffles are not only delicious and unique, but they possess many intriguing qualities. Whereas most plants and mushrooms are picked, truffles must be hunted, with the aid of a trained animal. That is because truffles grow underground, and there are no visible signs of them above the ground. However, their extremely powerful scent appeals to a wide variety of animals who are drawn to the truffle. Animals eat them, which the truffle uses as a mechanism for reproduction. The animal’s faeces spread its spores, allowing it to start growing in new areas. The chemicals that cause the scent of the truffle are very similar to the sex hormones of pigs, which is why traditionally truffles were hunted with the help of domesticated female pigs. Pigs can smell truffles six meters away, and they are very keen hunters due to their love of the truffle scent.
The problem with truffle hogs is that they love the truffle too much, so when they find them, they tend to gobble them up before the hapless accompanying human has time to intervene. Nowadays a lot of truffle hunting is done with more obedient dogs, though pigs are still used as well. Dogs are more reliable, but pigs are considered better at finding truffles. Truffle hunting is more complicated than it sounds. First, one must be very careful not to break up the fine underground mycelial web of the truffle, or its future production can be jeopardised. One primary reason to use truffle dogs rather than pigs is that digging pigs can cause a lot of damage to the mycelia. Second, only ripe truffles are valuable. An unripe truffle is inedible and cannot ripen once picked, and overripe truffles have lost their culinary value.
Truffle Hunting Around the World
When planning to go truffle hunting, it is essential to know that truffles are seasonal. There are summer truffles as well as winter truffles, but winter truffles are commonly cultivated and hence participating in their hunt is much easier. Their harvest times vary between countries and states, and one should remember that the winter in Southern Hemisphere is the summer of the Northern Hemisphere.
A typical truffle hunt lasts about half a day, and consists of going out into a forest or a truffle orchard with a guide and a trained truffle hog or a dog. During the hunt, the visitors learn about truffles, the kind of trees they grow with, the soil and other environmental conditions that they require, and how they can be planted and grown. In some hunts, one gets to keep any truffles found! If the price of some of the hunts seems high, one should remember that finding even one medium truffle might bring the price down quite a bit.
In New Zealand, there are currently more than thirty truffle growing properties or truffières, and in some of them, one can go truffle hunting. The best bet is to attend the Canterbury Truffle Festival, which organises truffle hunting. In the US, truffles are grown in Washington, Oregon, California, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. In Europe, one can hunt truffles in France and Italy. In Italy, Tuscany and Piemonte are regions where one can truffle hunt, and in France Perigord and Provence. There are also plenty of packages which include the hotel, meals, a truffle hunt, and possibly other regional activities.