While I have cooked with truffles over the years, I have never had the chance to hunt for them. Until now . . .
While on holiday in Italy, we have come to Savigno, an area in the hills of Emilia-Romagna that has been proclaimed the ‘Città del Tartufo’ to join a traditional truffle hunt. Standing on a hillside forest track, we start by looking at iPhone pictures with Maurizio, the tartufaio or ‘truffle hunter’. He shows us images of white truffles of various sizes ranging up to half a kilo in weight; not just one or two but lots of them. One particular shot showed several dozen white truffles laid out, a good haul even by Maurizio’s standards.
Licences are required to hunt for truffles here because much of the land is privately owned and there is a real sense of working to preserve the environment and future harvests. Truffles that don't come up to scratch are broken up and thrown back into the forest to spread the spores, a job done best by wood mice and snails, we are told.
Pigs are no longer used to hunt truffles because of the damage they do to root systems so hunting is now is the preserve of dogs. Various breeds are used but Macchia, Maurizio’s dog, is a Lagotto Romagnolo. It is only a few months since she gave birth to a valuable litter of 10 puppies, and she is close shaved due to the high temperatures. This is the reason our hunt is taking place in the early evening – the health and wellbeing of the dogs is paramount. As soon as Macchia is let out, she is impatient to work rather than hang around while Maurizio talks to us through Helena, our guide and translator.