truffles 1254

Hunting for Truffles in Piedmont

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!

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

White and black truffles

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.

 

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

We’re looking for truffles in this oak forest

 

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.

 

Truffle Hunting

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.

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Luna the truffle dog

 

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.

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Following our guides and Luna through the forest

 

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.

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Luna looking for truffles

 

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

I think she’s found one!

 

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).

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Using the vanghetto to remove soil from around the truffle

 

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.

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Found…a black truffle

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?

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Lina finds 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.

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

I can see it!

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!

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

It smells like a truffle!

 

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Found…a white truffle!

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.

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Views from the vineyard next to the forest

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!

Truffle Hunting in Piedmont

Well done Luna

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

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23 Responses to Hunting for Truffles in Piedmont

  1. Janice Chung October 26, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

    Great post. Loved the line about the “greedy” pigs and why dogs are now used. From your pictures, I can’t believe how hidden they are. I’ve always wanted to do truffle hunting and missed out on a tour when I was in Provence last spring. It’s still on my wish list.

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

      Thanks Janice. It’s a tour to definitely take if you have the opportunity. Parts of France still use pigs so it would be really interesting to see this! I hope you get to take a tour either in Italy of France

  2. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru October 28, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    I love this! We enjoyed white and black truffles in Istria, where they use dogs as well. There is nothing quite like the intense earthy flavor. So fun to come along with you on this hunt!

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

      Thanks Betsy. We tried the truffles in Istria too. Glad to know that you’re another truffle lover too.

  3. Turkey's For Life October 28, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    We’ve always been curious about truffles and truffle hunting as it’s something we’ve never done before and we’ve never eaten them either. So, are they worth the effort in hunting them – a beautiful walk anyway, no doubt – and do they taste good? 🙂
    Julia

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

      Yes Julia, they are worth the walk in the forest! It’s great to see how these gorgeous dogs can sniff them out. Eating them is another treat! White truffles over eggs, pasta and risotto dishes are delicious! I’m biased as I love them but not everyone does….more for us!!

  4. Jo October 29, 2015 at 9:20 am #

    What an awesome experience, Jenny! I’d love to go truffle hunting, it sounds quite thrilling chasing the dogs through the forest. I’ve tasted truffles at a Chef’s cooking class lunch at Cape Lodge in Margaret River and was amazed at how expensive they are, and what a very individual taste they have. We had black truffles. I think perhaps like some other foods you need to develop a taste for them over time and learn to appreciate them. I’m afraid I thought they smelt a bit farmyard-ish, and tasted similar. I obviously don’t have refined taste!

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

      Don’t give up on truffles yet Jo…You’ll have to taste the white truffles. I fond that an egg or pasta dish is the best to try with them. It was a great experience, one you’ll have to try if you go to Piedmont

  5. Nina October 29, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    As always, your photos make me want to go there. I was amazed to find out recently that our very own Manjimup is one of the biggest global exporters of truffles – if only I could train my dog Billie to become a truffle dog!

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

      I’m sure Billie would love truffles as much as we do! If you do go to Piedmont, try and go in October when you can try the white truffles. They are a very different taste…..sooooo good! We ate them on every dish we could!

  6. Cathy Sweeney October 29, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    Truffle hunting was one of my favorite experiences on my first visit to Italy, not in Piedmont, but in Emilia-Romagna. We were lucky to find two beauties and have their shavings on our eggs at breakfast the next morning. .Ah, the good life! By the way, Piedmont is definitely on my radar and I’d gladly have another truffle-hunting experience and Luna is absolutely adorable.

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 11:28 pm #

      Truffles for breakfast is one of life’s pleasures Cathy! Unfortunately we couldn’t keep the ones we found but we did buy one at the truffle fair to have on eggs on our last morning! I’d love to go truffle hunting in Emilia-Romagna as well!

  7. Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel) October 29, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

    What a great story! Luna the truffle dog is not only cute but evidently very skilled. I had no idea truffles were buried so deeply in the earth – I must put this on my list of experiences to try in Piedmont.

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

      They’re very skilled aren’t they Michelle. I was surprised that they could still smell them when they were this deep but they do have a strong perfume. Definitely something to do in Piedmont!

  8. Krista October 30, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    What a fantastic experience!! I’ve never been truffle hunting, but I do like truffles. 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

      It is fun Krista. It’s so interesting to see how they find these expensive delicacies!

  9. budget jan November 1, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

    Luna is a gorgeous looking dog. I like the image of you all running to keep up with her. An intriguing way that they are trained. I guess it is easier to stop a dog than a pig getting the truffle!

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

      Luna was so cute Jan…and brilliant at finding truffles. We managed to keep up with her…just! If you’re ever in Piedmont, you’ll have to do this!

  10. Bon Voyage Baby November 4, 2015 at 5:56 am #

    We did this in Istria! Would LOVE to do it in Piedmont one day….yet another reason to add Piedmont to the list xoxo

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 10:46 pm #

      Istria would have been fun! Piedmont has some fabulous towns, food and wine…it’s definitely an area not to miss!

  11. Heather @ Ferreting Out the Fun November 12, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

    I wondered why pigs weren’t used anymore! This looks like so much fun. I had hoped to try truffle hunting when we were in Istria in September, but we ran out of time.

  12. Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages November 24, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    What an experience, I’d love to do this. Imagine how devastated you would be if the dog ate the expensive truffle before you got to it :/

    • Jenny Freedman November 25, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

      It was a fabulous experience Malinda. Wouldn’t it be devastating! Truffles are so delicious I’m not surprised they like them!

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