Provence truffle hunting
Everything you always wanted to know about truffle hunting in Provence including how to train your dog to find truffles
What are truffles and where do you find them?
Truffles are a form of edible fungus. Certain species of trees, particularly oak, carry a disease which causes them to grow. They develop underground when climatic conditions are right, attached to the tree by a fine thread. As well as being found wild, truffles are cultivated by planting saplings infected by the disease. The science is imprecise. Not all trees that have the disease will produce truffles. Trees that have produced truffles previously are not guaranteed to produce again. Hence the need for a dog to hunt down these precious black diamonds.
Can any breed of dog be trained to find truffles?
Opinions differ. The Italians insist on using only specific breeds, but the French view is that any dog can be trained as a truffle dog. In fact they believe muts rather than pedigree dogs make better truffle dogs.
How do you train a truffle dog?
Start young. Training commences by rubbing a truffle on the teet of the mother dog. A feeding puppy therefore begins to associate the odour with a pleasurable experience. As the puppy grows, he is given a toy, perhaps a sock or cuddly animal with a truffle hidden inside. The toy is hidden and gradually the puppy is taught to search it out. Each time the toy is found the puppy is rewarded with food. The dog learns that finding the odour of a truffle results in a treat.
Can truffles be found year round?
In Provence the main truffle season is December until mid March. This is when the most gastronomically prized truffle – the tuber melanosporum, or black diamond can be found. Summer truffles, which have a less strong flavour can be found from May until September.
Cooking with truffles
Truffles do not respond well to high temperatures. Most classic recipes are based on infusing ingredients such as rice and eggs, with the flavour of truffles. A truffle is left for a week in a jar with the ingredients and gradually the other ingredients take on its flavour. Eggs treated in this way can be turned into a gastronomic delight by simply scrambling and then grating fresh truffle on top just before serving.
How much does a truffle cost?
Price varies according to the year’s harvest. Spring rain, followed by a hot summer and a cold winter promises a bountiful crop. A mild winter leads to a dramatic fall in the number of truffles, and a steep rise in prices. Most years truffles cost around 900 euros for a kilo, which works out at about 50 euros to purchase a truffle the size of a golf ball.
Where can I find out more?
Ten Trees and a truffle dog by Jamie Ivey, is available on Amazon, and tells the story of an Englishman’s attempt to train his dog to find truffles in Provence.
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