Truffles, the marvelous, musky fungus that can be shaved over scrambled eggs, pasta, or fries, tucked under the skin of a roasted chicken, infused into expensive oils, or folded into sabayon for and extraordinary dessert, are hard to find. You need a sensitive nose. That’s why for centuries pigs were used to sniff them out. As a youngster I recall reading about French truffle hunters, their harnessed pigs on leashes, scouring the forests in search of black gold.
So when we first met Silvano and Claudia back in 2009 we were surprised to learn that the family dog was a truffle hunter. “Italians in this area have bred the Lagotto Romagnolo for centuries,” he said. “They’re very good hunters, but their specialty is truffles.” Silvano is an avid hunter. Over the fireplace in the gathering room on the top floor of their Traversetolo home hangs the head of a cingale, wild boar. And if you’re as lucky as we were, you could find cingale sausage on your plate.
“Pigs are difficult to manage,” Silvano told us. “They love the truffle, and can easily gobble the prize. Dogs don’t care so much. They’re happy to please by locating what their human wants.” Ruby looks up at him with light-brown eyes. Medium sized and hypo-allergenic, she’s got a waterproof coat of curly white hair that looks like an uncut poodle and her tail doesn’t stop wagging.
“She’s a wonderful family dog too,” added Claudia. She’s gentle with the children and loves to play.”
“Sounds to me like Americans would love these truffle dogs, ” I said. “Even without the truffle hunting. And besides, we have plenty of truffles…the chocolate kind…in America.”
So I was surprised to read recently, that some Americans are training truffle dogs to root out an American-cultivated fungus. At the recent Oregon Truffle Festival, dog owners signed up to teach German shepherds, labradors and a poodle. A trained Lagotto Romagnolo sells for $6000. Not surprising. European white truffles sell for $2000 per pound. The Oregon ones, which have been compared to the finest Italian Albas go for just $400 per pound. Still a pretty profit for a subterranean tuber.
That means we may see more of this exotic shavings on American plates. I hope so. Claudia’s linguini with shaved Alba was outrageous.