Photography - Stephen Hamilton, Story - Max Hamilton, Food - Vanessa Dubiel, Prop Stylist - Lorri J., Title & Design - Judith Mara
The hunt for truffles is a complicated affair cloaked in fungal secrecy. They cling to the roots of trees under the topsoil and the yearly expeditions for these plots lure chefs and woodsmen alike. If a few fertile patches are suspected – a hunter might head out in the early morning with their snuffling animal to root out the valuable balls of fungi before other foragers arrive. This image of a cloistered figure – swaddled in wool with a chortling pig on a leash is conjured but there is no better way to reveal your chosen patch of truffles to the world than to be caught walking there with a pig.
As a pig snuffles through the earth to root out truffles it leaves a unique track on the topsoil with its snout which further alerts other hunters of your truffle trove. It is true that pigs have a better sense of smell than dogs but if you've ever smelled the distinctive perfume of a truffle you’ll understand how dogs are able to track this distinguishing scent.
Both pigs and dogs are often trained to find truffles with food association, games that instruct the animal hunt for a truffle scent and positive affirmations when the truffle-toy is found. The best truffle hunting animals are often trained from birth on specialized farms. Food association is used to lock in the animals desire to root out truffles by spreading the truffle oil on the nursing mothers nipples. The brains of these pups or piglets are hardwired to see the scent of truffles as their only food source which makes them desperate to find the fungi.
Even if a pig's sensitive snout is enough to sway you towards a bovine foraging companion – keep in mind that even a well trained truffle pig will still try to eat the truffles it finds. Constant supervision is required. Whereas food motivated dogs of any active age can be trained not only to search for truffles but also the restraint to not gobble the valuable fungus up.
This past July, while in Tuscany for a family wedding, Stephen had the opportunity to go "summer truffle" hunting. While the dog and the guide did all the digging, everyone struck gold.
The favorite breed of truffle hound in Italy is the Lagotto Romagnolo. Dogs are now the favorite way to sniff out truffles – with a sense of smell 1,ooo++ times better than humans. They are also much less destructive to the mycelia of the truffle than pigs.
Once the valuable fungus is dug and gently cleaned, it's time for the real magic to happen. Truffles are better prepared raw, as high heat destroys their aroma and flavor. For this page, we shaved them on top of an omelette; paired them with honey, cheese and bread, and infused the roasted pork tenderloin gravy with them, so all their goodness became part of the sauce and not lost.
Gustare i tartufi!