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Hunting for truffles with dogs in the mountains of Italy was definitely something I never imagined myself doing. Yet when it was revealed as one of our Delicious Emilia-Romagna activities, I was ready to jump right in!
I pictured myself with a huge, hyperactive dog on the end of a leash, running all over the place with his nose to the ground as I jogged behind him, struggling to keep up.
Well, it wasn’t quite that way. Starting with the arrival of the head of tourism in the town of Sant’Agata Feltria.
He looked our group up and down, then planted his eyes on me. “Your shoes are not good,” he told me.
I was wearing hiking boots, the same boots in which I climbed Mount Snowdon the week before. Sure, they weren’t very attractive, and God knows Italians live and die for fashion, but were they really a bad choice?
Just then, a pickup truck pulled up, our two hunters inside. Before getting out of the car — before saying a word to anyone! — one of the hunters looked at my shoes and said, “Those shoes are not good.”
WHAT?! Worse than Christine’s trendy sneakers? Worse than Katja’s high heels?!
I have the feeling that this is a prank that they play on every woman in ugly shoes who comes to hunt truffles in Sant’Agata Feltria.
We headed out into the hills, where we were stared at by a herd of unmoving cows. It was like something out of a horror movie.
And the hunt began!
When you think of hunting for truffles, you probably think of pigs. Pigs do hunt truffles in Italy — but they also eat them up if you don’t get to them quickly enough! At 2,000 EUR per kilo, you don’t want to risk it. Luckily, the dogs use their sense of smell without eating the prized truffles themselves.
The very spirited dogs promptly ran off into the woods, trying to chase down that crazy truffle scent.
Each time the hunters go hunting for truffles, they go with two dogs: an older, seasoned truffle-hunting dog, and a younger dog learning how to hunt. It’s a constant cycle of training.
Italians have been doing this for generations — one of our hunters was a fifth-generation truffle hunter! Back in his great-grandfather’s time, on a good day, they would find 20 kilos of truffles. Of course, back then, nobody wanted to eat them. Today, they’re lucky if they find one kilo.
For some more facts about truffles, including the reason why the dogs can hunt the same area every day and discover truffles that weren’t there the day before, check out the video:
I really have no idea how the hunters were able to determine that the dog had found a truffle! To me, it just looked like they ran around like maniacs, no method to their madness.
But the hunters know their dogs better than anyone else, and they could tell where the truffle was found. Here he is digging for one:
I’d like to add that by this time, we were squelching through mud. My hiking boots had definitely been the right choice, as they now sported an inch-thick layer of mud around the edge. Poor Katja lamented the fact that she had worn heels!
We did find some truffles that day — the white truffle pictured above is worth 15-20 EUR and may end up in shavings on a dish at a five-star restaurant in New York or Paris.
Hunting for truffles with dogs was such an interesting experience, and if you end up in Emilia-Romagna, I highly recommend a trip to truffle-rich Sant’Agata Feltria to track down some of these beauties for yourselves.