|Castello di Grinzane Cavour, photo taken ten days before the World Alba Truffle Auction takes place here.|
It is a charity auction which last year raised over 230,000 Euros
|the walk back to the car, |
Grinzane Cavour Castle right in the distance
We are in the woods with Beppe the Truffle Hunter and his dog Luna, not far from Grinzane Cavour Castle on a gloriously beautiful Autumn day. We can see the castle across the fields in the distance. Luna is a Lagotto dog, an Italian breed of gun dogs often used for truffle hunting. As Luna crisscrosses the wood with her nose close to the ground, Beppe keeps calling out to her, never losing contact. We try to keep up with the energetic dog as best we can, avoiding the low-hanging branches and twigs, and slipping on the leaf-covered, muddy underground.
"Hurry, hurry, Luna found something." We rush to the digging dog. There is a strong truffle smell emanating from the dirt that Luna kicks up. "White truffle," Beppe says, looking happy. It is the scent of the earth that gives it away. The scent of white truffle is so much more intense than that of black truffle. He hands me a piece of dirt. I sniff it, and even lick it. The dirt smells good enough to eat (but, spitting the dirt from my mouth, really it isn't). Beppe tries to pry Luna away from the hole with a treat. "It is her hole, so it is very important not to take it from her." The treats do the trick. She leaves the hole, Beppe carefully digs with his fingers, Luna comes back, sits on the hole, dog and hunter cuddle. It is a ritual that is repeated many times over before the truffle is unearthed. The truffle found is about 20 grams. Luna is rewarded with some more treats and endless loving hugs. Beppe covers the hole well. Chances are a new truffle will grow here this season, and he doesn't want anybody else to find it.
|the black truffle (r) and white truffle (l) we found|
Truffle dogs are trained from 3 months old. They get started on little bits of truffle to learn the taste and smell. Next, they practice finding little truffles buried in the garden, until they're ready for the real hunt. "Our" truffle hunter learned the trade from his father, and raised Luna from puppy.
Many attempts have been made to describe the scent of truffle. It is an enigmatic and complex aroma, with "notes of wet earth, hay, fermented honey, funghi, garlic, spices, and even ammonia", as described by those that live and breathe the Alba White Truffle. Hovering so close to the forest floor, with its autumn smells of dried berries, crushed acorn, tree bark, and fallen leaves, and wet dog stirring up dark chalky clay enriched with an incredible fungal aroma, I was thinking: all this yes, and then some. Nothing compares to the intoxicatingly unique scent of the tuber magnatum pico.
|the truffle hunter has to allow his dog to "protect" its find. |
You can see the truffle hunter's finger prodding around the truffle as the dog hovers over it.
|truffle hunting: a labour of love between dog and hunter|