Alternate Truffle-hunting Methods
Truffles are usually hunted by relying on the sense of smell of dogs: they get wind of the aroma and try to dig them out of the ground. But there are unusual alternative methods as follows:
An animal that is naturally attracted to truffles (whereas the dog must be trained for it) is the female pig, or sow, because the truffle has the same smell as the male pig.
Sows which are not too young are preferred, since they are calmer and more expert; care must be taken, however, because the pig will try to eat the truffle, and may well bite - possibly with serious consequences - if any attempt is made to take the truffle out of its mouth.
They are therefore muzzled to prevent them swallowing the tuber. Other disadvantages of using pigs are that they tire quickly, are very heavy and difficult to transport to the hunting area and do not move easily if the ground is steep or uneven.
Another method is to follow truffle flies, whose larvae feed on the precious tubers. They belong to various species, and the females hover in the air until they are directly above the truffle, which they identify by its smell; then they drop to the ground and lay their eggs.
The larvae dig down rapidly to reach the object of their desire. The truffle-hunters move the bushes and the grass using a branch, and the flies take flight and then settle down again as before to lay their eggs. At this point the astute hunter digs down and usually finds the truffle.
Highly observant hunters with very sharp eyesight are also able to discern various signs that reveal the presence of something abnormal in the ground: small cracks in the earth, and if the truffle has grown near enough to the surface, the tracks and faeces of small rodents fond of truffles (rats, water voles, etc.), the coming and going of ants or other insects or holes made by them to reach their prey, and dry earth where the growing truffle has disturbed the roots.
A highly singular method, which I have seen applied in the Oristano area of Sardinia, is used when looking for the Terfezia truffle.
The hunter has a 1.5 m long stick which ends in a 20/25 cm long spike similar to an old-fashioned knitting needle. He continuously probes the ground - which is usually sandy - with short, sharp thrusts of the spike, especially where he sees that the helianthemum (a grass which lives in symbiosis with the terfezia) is lusher or around rockrose bushes.
If there is a terfezia in the ground, the spikes meets with more resistance when it goes into and comes out of the ground. This method is used with the terfezia because it is harvested and eaten when still unripe and dogs are unable to smell it.
Finally some people find truffles by systematically hoeing the ground where they are known to grow normally: in the case of the black (T. melanosporum) or "summer" (T. aestivum) truffles, the presence of the mycelium is shown by a "burnt" effect - i.e. the almost total lack of vegetation that these truffles are able to provoke.
In the terraced areas of western Liguria the black truffles grow right up against the loose-laid walls supporting the narrow strips of land, and they can be found by partly destroying the low wall.
Unfortunately, these latter methods provide an immature product with a mediocre taste and smell that is only acceptable if it is fraudulently mixed with ripe specimens; they also damage the environment where the mycelium takes root and are not therefore to be recommended; moreover production suffers as a result of their being harvested.
Light surface hoeing may be acceptable (as is maintained by some truffle-hunters in central Italy) as airing the ground helps the receptacles to develop.
INFORMATION: "Gruppo Micologico Cebano", tel. (0174) 701327
Created: Wednesday, January
09, 2002; Last Updated:
Wednesday, September 14, 2016