As we were tucking into a sensational plate of spaghetti with fresh black truffles the other night, it was mentioned that maybe, just possibly, we could go truffle hunting in Italy. A lady knew a lady who had a truffle dog and she maybe, just possibly, would take us on a truffle hunting expedition. Umbria is famous for truffles, we’ve enjoyed all sorts of truffle scented dishes here, this adventure had ears pricking up, it sounded like a once in a lifetime chance.
Truffle Hunting in Italy is a Serious Business
We all know how expensive truffles are, so productive truffle grounds are well kept secrets and truffling expeditions are a private affair. I can’t tell you where we went, nor give away the identity of our truffle finding host. I’ll just say that she was gorgeous, as only Italian ladies can be gorgeous while digging about in mud and thrashing their way through woodland undergrowth. A machete would have been good, you don’t find truffles on paths.
The trufflers have to be licensed and the truffle grounds are protected by an ancient code of honour. It would be extremely bad manners to trespass on another truffle hunter’s patch. We had to keep quiet, look harmless and not spill the beans.
Truffles are Found By Pigs, Right?
No! It’s been illegal to use pigs for truffle hunting in Italy since 1985. The hogs caused too much damage and reduced truffle production. These days dogs find the fungus. Beautiful, clever dogs like our gorgeous new friend below, lets call her Lulu, for secrecy’s sake. Good truffle dogs are sometimes poisoned by rival trufflers, I’d hate for that to happen to Lulu and her owner.
We met up with Lulu and her owner on a deserted country road and set off, walking slowly, enjoying the countryside at a leisurely, child friendly pace. Before we’d walked 100m Lulu shot off into the roadside vegetation and started digging with her paws. Our guide raced over, helped excavate the truffle, gave Lulu a sniff of it to show her it was a good one and rewarded her with cheese. There is a chance that truffle dogs will eat their finds, so owners have to get to them quickly. That was it, all there is to it. Lulu found four more truffles in that spot before we moved on.
All truffle hunters have favourite spots, we visited a few. The truffler told us that on one day a particular spot had yielded 10Kg of truffles. On this day there were none.
We climbed banks, slipped down mud slides, thrashed through brambles, trees and long grass. There were no paths to follow, Lulu would follow her nose. In all we found around 20 truffles. In a typical year, our hunter finds around 20Kg.
Was the Truffle Hunting Trip Suitable For Children?
The youngest child with us was 7 months old, he was in a baby carrier and was an absolute angel, the eldest was 10.
We walked a fair way over 2.5 hours, there were some steep ascents and descents and a lot of brambles and some barbed wire to negotiate.
Carrying the baby was hard in that terrain but the other kids did great. They need sensible shoes, my boys wore crocs, they wear crocs for everything. Hiking shoes, Wellingtons, or covered walking shoe would be fine. Thick long trousers would be best to prevent bramble scratches but one little girl did OK in shorts.
There are tics in the undergrowth, so bug spray and trousers tucked into socks is a good idea.
We found around 20 individual truffles. Good spots yielded several, some spots were empty or had unripe or over-blown specimens.
At the end of the day we each had a truffle or two to take home. Treat them like mushrooms, don’t wash them, just scrub them with a brush then grate on cooked dishes. Cooking destroys their flavour. Ours are destined for the freezer where they keep well, World Travel Chef is going to be very happy indeed!
World Travel Family are visiting Umbria as guests of Our Whole Village. For more information on their trips and philosophy try this post or check out Our Whole Village website. There’s plenty there for travellers of all ages, armchair and actual.
If you enjoyed Truffle Hunting in Italy you can read more about our highlights of Italy in these posts: