Truffles cannot be planted or grown commercially. This is why their extraction requires help from a highly intelligent animal that possesses a keen sense of smell – man’s best friend dog. Even though hogs have an innate ability to sniff out truffles, they also have a tendency to eat these delicacies too.
As these rare gems are very difficult to find, dogs need to be trained. Before jumping into the deep end by learning how to train dogs to sniff out truffles, let’s get our feet wet first and find out what they are and where are they found.
What are truffles?
Truffles are a type of fungus that grows in the earth in forested areas, typically near trees in the shade. They are unique in the sense that they can only grow in certain areas under very specific conditions. Truffles have been found to grow predominantly in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, and even North America. Two regions which are especially famous for their truffles are Italy and France.
Truffles are extremely rare because they can be difficult to locate and they sometimes grow as deep as a foot or more underground. They have been referred by prominent chefs as the diamonds of the culinary word, and are therefore quite expensive. Some truffles may sell for around $100 a pound, whereas other, rarer varieties of truffles have even been priced at a whopping $330,000 for roughly two pounds!
Just so you know, truffles and chocolate truffles are two completely separate things. Chocolate truffles are not made using fungus, or actual truffles. Rather, they are made using chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder to give them the illusion of freshly picked truffles.
The four types of most commonly consumed truffles are:
- The black Perigord Truffle (Tuber melanosporum)
- The white or Alba Truffle (Tuber magnatum)
- The Black Summer Truffle (Tuber aestivum)
- The Bianchetto truffle (Tuber albidiumpico)
Training Your Dog to Hunt Truffles
While they may grow quite deep underground, truffles let off a very pungent aroma which can be sniffed out by trained pigs and dogs. Since pigs happen to love the taste of truffles and often gobble them up before their owners can retrieve them, many truffle hunters now prefer to train dogs for this purpose. Just about any breed and type of dog can be trained to be a truffle hunter; what matters is that they are properly trained.
Here’s how you can train your dog:
Timing is Key
- Begin training as early as possible; preferably when your dog is still a puppy
- Imprint your dog at the earliest stage – imprinting is done by giving your dog a smell or taste of what they are going to have to seek out
‘Follow your nose!’
- Imprinting can be done by rubbing truffle oil on a ball which your dog is going to play with. This way, you’ll essentially be playing ‘fetch’ with a ball which smells like truffles. Once your dog has done this consistently, they will acquire the habit of seeking out and retrieving truffles, just like they would with their ball.
- Once your dog has mastered fetching the ball, you can try hiding the ball or burying it and getting your dog to locate it.
- When you feel like your dog has gotten the hang of seeking out the smell of truffles, use a real piece of truffle and hide it to see if your dog will recover it. If they successfully find the truffle, reward them profusely to encourage them.
Training must be truffle specific
- If you have a specific type of truffle that you want your dog to retrieve, you will have to use that specific truffle for training purposes because all truffles smell differently.
Reward good behavior
- During the training process, each time your dog retrieves what they are meant to (i.e. a ball, the truffle itself, or whatever else you are using for training purposes) give them a treat to reinforce good behavior. It is recommended that you give them a tiny morsel of bread dipped slightly in truffle oil. That way they get a taste of truffle as well and can make better use of their senses when tracking truffles.
In the culinary world, truffles hold an esteemed position. This subterranean fungus is highly coveted and sought after by many renowned chefs. Acquiring truffles can be particularly problematic since they are very difficult to find. That’s why truffle hunters use trained animals such as dogs to help retrieve them. With their keen sense of smell, a properly trained dog can do wonders when it comes to seeking out hidden truffles.