HOW TO TRAIN A DOG TO FIND TRUFFLES
Truffles are difficult to find and as such are very expensive as a result! To give you an example, white truffles cost from about £700 to over £1,500 a pound, and black truffles cost from £200 to over £400 a pound.
Truffle hunters in Italy and France use pigs and mixed-breed dogs to sniff out truffles. Dogs are preferred to pigs because pigs love to eat truffles. Notice the staff held by the truffle hunter in the picture with the pig. The hunter uses the staff to force the pig to back off, once the pig has located a truffle.
So, how do you train a dog to find truffles?
Dogs like other food better than truffles, so bread and other treats are used for rewards. The night before a truffle hunt the dog is not fed in order to make it more eager to find truffles for the treat. Just be aware that dogs generally do not find young truffles because the odour is too weak, but the odour does becomes stronger with age as the spores mature.
The value of commercial truffles means that there are laws controlling their collection. In Italy, for example, truffle collectors are tested and licensed. There, organizations of land owners called cooperatives control truffle hunting on their property. Unless you are a member of the cooperative, you can be arrested for collecting truffles from cooperative truffle beds.
Second, the right trees must be present. Truffles are formed by fungi that are partners (ectomycorrhizal) with certain trees. You will not find truffles under maples, for instance, because maples do not form ectomycorrhizae. Trees to use as clues include: pines, firs, Douglas-fir, oaks, hazel nuts, hickories, birches, beeches, and eucalyptus.
Third, truffles use animals for spore dispersal. In North America, squirrels and chipmunks are the major wild animals dispersing truffle spores. Search among the right trees for pits dug by rodents in their own hunt for truffles. Pits do not guarantee success, however! Rodents also dig pits searching for acorns, onion bulbs, and beetle grubs.
The best success results from raking around fresh pits. Look for pits not filled with leaves or other debris. I use a four-tine garden cultivator with the handle shortened to 30 inches to rake leaves off the surface and dig into the soil 3 or 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) . A good eye is required as many truffles are small and coloured red, brown, white, or even black.
Bring a supply of small paper bags for taking your truffles home. Write your collection notes on the bag before putting the truffles inside it. Information on fresh appearance and habitat is often needed to identify fungi. Note the colour and shape of the truffle, and what kind of trees are close by. The date and precise location are also useful information. These data can help you understand when and where to look next year.
Do not put truffles in sealed plastic bags. If you do they will mould, get slimy, and smell bad!
NEVER EAT ANY TRUFFLE, OR OTHER FUNGUS, UNLESS IT HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED BY AN EXPERT!
You might confuse the button stage of a poisonous mushroom with a truffle, or even be naturally allergic to it.