The Art of Truffle Hunting

(image: Guardian.com)

Many of us have tasted truffles in chocolates and pasta sauces but there are still many more of us who have no clue as to what exactly a truffle is or exactly how to "hunt" them.

A truffle is a tuber. More specifically, a truffle is a fruiting body (part of the sexual phase of a fungal life cycle) of an underground mushroom and are typically found at and around the base of trees. There are hundreds of species of Truffles with the majority of truffles being blackish-brown and sometimes white in color. Some of the most famous ones in Italy being the white truffle from Piemonte (Tuber Magnatum Pico), Summer Truffle (Tuber Aestivum Vitt) which comes from many areas including Tuscany’s San Miniato, and the black truffle from the Umbrian village of Norcia (Tuber Melanosporum Vitt). 


In Umbria, the white truffle season, which begins in October, is not so prolific as Alba's to the north. But the black truffle season, which begins in December, sprouts truffles all through the winter and into early summer. So plentiful are Umbrian truffles that the town of Norcia makes a truffle liqueur, Amaro al Tartufo.

Truffle hunting can take place anywhere truffles are grown. In Italy, one must be a member of a truffle hunting cooperative in order to legally collect truffles. A test must be taken (and passed) and a license issued in order to become a tartufai.This is serious business as one who hunts without a license will be promptly arrested. 

Hunting is often done in small groups with special truffle-sniffing pigs or dogs. Dogs are preferred as pigs absolutely love the taste of truffles and many hunters have gone home empty handed as a result of an over-eager pig. Sometimes, truffle hunters are known to be very secretive so as not to make known the location of a particularly fruitful truffle location. There are many places that offer truffle hunting day trips but be prepared to pay quite a bit for this five star foodie-experience.


(image: etanews.com)

(image: mydinnerswithrichard.blogspot.com)

Truffle hunting is not without its dangers (see here). Every year there are numerous shootings due to largely unregulated hunting laws. There is a growing call by many Italians to change the current hunting laws so as to protect against the growing number of injuries to truffle hunters at the hands wild game hunters. Always remember to always wear brightly colored hunting vests in order to avoid being accidentally shot by wild game hunters.

We learned about truffle hunting first hand during one of our first couple of visits to Tuscumbria when we came across several truffle hunters trekking across the private property belonging to the villa we were staying at. We were told by the managers of the property that very old Italian laws permitted hunters from crossing onto private property to pursue their prey. This law included both wild game hunters and truffle hunters. As Americans we couldn't believe that private property laws didn't protect against trespassers and were equally surprised to hear that a nearby neighbor of the property had his land torched up to his house by a group of angry hunters in retaliation for not allowing them to hunt on the property. Apparently, these hunters believed that it was their legal right to enter onto any private land during hunting season. After retaliatory actions like the one in this example who would question their right? After hearing about this story the managers told us to not be scared if we come across strangers with guns or in small groups and to not make a big deal of it. Easier to say then do.


Here are some truffle hunting resources:


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