Piedmont in truffle season is the place to be! It’s a place we return to often to explore the stunning hilltop towns, drink amazing wines and to eat some of the best food in Italy. Even though we’ve been to Alba’s White Truffle Fair a couple of times, we’ve never been on a truffle hunt. So imagine our excitement when our travelling friends announce they had booked us all to go truffle hunting!
What are truffles and where are they found?
Truffles are the fruiting bodies (sporocaps) of funghi. They rely on a symbiotic relationship with trees for these delicacies to be produced. The oak forests in the Langhe area of Piedmont are a perfect place to find white truffles. Oak gives truffles a more intense flavour but other trees such as the poplar and hazelnut also add a good flavour to the truffle.
Black truffles are found from May to February while the more elusive and important white truffle is only found from mid Sept to January. Its stronger pungency and taste, as well as the limited hunting season, make it one of the most sought after and expensive, delicacies in the world.
We arranged to meet our guide Giuseppe at 5pm in the main piazza at Grinzane, a small town on the road between Barolo and Alba. He, together with his friend Giacomo, hop into their vintage Renault 4 and we follow them to the edge of the woods. Here we meet up with Giuseppe’s father, Beppe who is to be our truffle hunter or “trifalao” as he is known and his trusty dog Luna.
As we’re putting on our rubber boots, Giuseppe explains that pigs used to be used but their greedy appetites meant that too many truffles were lost so they started using dogs.
The dogs are trained from an early age. Their training starts with them sniffing out tiny pieces of a strong smelly cheese. They then progress on to truffles. A game of find the truffle follows where small pieces of black truffle are buried for the dogs to sniff out and start to uncover. All this hard work is well rewarded with dog treats and sometimes pieces of black truffle so a taste is acquired.
Truffle hunting usually takes places early in the morning or at night when the dog’s sense of smell is at its highest. It’s such a competitive business that at these times it is also easier to keep secret where they find the truffles.
But now it’s time to explore and we’re off into the woods following our guides. The pace is quite quick with Luna eager to race ahead. Beppe is constantly talking to her in the local dialect and she darts back and forth sniffing under different trees. Suddenly Luna starts to dig furiously at the ground.
Beppe pulls her away and commands her to sit, for should there be a truffle, he can’t risk her getting it first and eating it. He carefully starts to scrape away at the soil with a trowel like instrument (a vanghetto).
We crowd around and then Beppe let’s out a yes! It’s a black truffle, of good size. He then very carefully digs around and under the truffle to bring it out in one piece.
The soil is carefully replaced and the roots covered in the hope that another truffle will be found in this spot at a later date. Luna is rewarded with a treat and sent off on another search.
Run don’t walk!
It’s not a quiet walk in the forest. At times we are running trying to keep up with Luna and Beppe but the thrill of the chase keeps us going. Will we find another truffle?
Ten minutes later, the process is repeated. Luna starts digging and after Beppe has pulled her away, I am asked if I would like to see what is there. I slowly remove the earth until I can see the knobbly exterior of a truffle.
This time we’ve hit gold! It’s a white truffle and a good size one as well! At today’s prices it’s worth quite a lot!
We’ve come to a clearing in the forest where grape vines have been planted. The light is starting to fade but the view is still stunning.
We start to head home but on the way, Luna, still sniffing and scratching, becomes excited and we uncover another black truffle.
Luna’s worked hard today. Three truffles including one prized white truffle. She is well rewarded!
We bid farewell to our truffle hunters and it’s back to our hotel to get ready for drinks at our favourite bar and dinner……with truffles of course!
Have you been truffle hunting? Have you eaten truffles?
Other articles you may enjoy:
Montforte d’Alba: 5 Reasons to Love this Italian Town
Alba’s White Truffle Fair
Aqui terme- Piedmont’s Spa Town