How to Find Truffles
Part of the truffle’s allure lies in its elusive nature. No other naturally grown food on the planet leads you on a trek into woodlands with only an intrepid dog companion as your guide, adding to the sense of drama and provenance of each individual fungus. Combine the childhood joy of an Easter egg hunt or hide and seek with a walk in beautiful woodlands and you’re left with the best way to find one of nature’s most elusive foods.
For the authentic thrill of truffle hunting, why not try our Truffle Hunting Experience, for a two hour long adventure complete with a guide and a truffle hunting dog.
The importance of truffle hunting dogs
Your single most important piece of “equipment” is your trusty companion and guide; your truffle dog. While pigs were once famously used to help locate the under-foot fungi, their haste to remove and eat the truffle from the ground not only rendered the find unusable, but was damaging to the soil in a way which prevented the growth of further truffles.
These days Lagotto Romagnolo dogs are the chosen breed for foraging for truffles: retrieval dogs by nature, they have an excellent sense of smell and aren’t easily distracted by nearby wildlife; an important consideration for woodland foraging. As puppies, many enjoy digging in sandboxes and playing games where they find a toy or treat. This shows not only that it’s in their blood to forage, but also that it’s something they take great joy in doing.
Labradors are popular truffle hunting dogs in North America as they share many similar traits to the Lagotto Romagnolo but are more easily found. Known and loved primarily for their intelligence and calm temperament, Labradors have historically made very good gun dogs and as such have soft mouths that protect whatever they retrieve.
Where do you find truffles?
Today, truffles are grown in a number of countries around the world including the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States, with harvests increasing as we improve on ways to cultivate them. However mainland Europe, most notably Italy and France, has always been the high benchmark for quality truffles thanks to the warm climate and sweet limestone soil. These naturally occurring conditions are also ideal for growing vineyards, explaining the history of high-quality wines in the area.
Finding a truffle hidden in woodlands can seem nigh-on impossible to a novice, but a well-versed guide knows the tell-tale signs to look out for when traversing the woodlands. One signpost of a brule truffle for example is a pattern of missing vegetation around a tree, caused by organic compounds emitted by the truffle that can act as a herbicide to potential nearby flora.
The reason why a particular fungus becomes a truffle rather than a more common mushroom is down to the effects on the soil created by the trees themselves; newly planted oak and hazelnut trees have been found to yield a high number of the hidden delicacies. These trees in particular are regularly planted by people wishing to cultivate their own truffles, however their truffle-producing life cycle is relatively short at just 15- 30 years.
Truffle flies can be a giveaway to the location of mature truffles in the area, as they are attracted to the smell and use the surrounding area as a breeding ground, so when foraging in the wild be sure to keep an eye out!
What do truffles look like?
While technically a not-too-distant relative of the mushroom, truffles look almost nothing like most fungi as we know them.
Italian white truffles are the most popularly known variety, and look somewhat like a larger version of the contents of a walnut. There are many variations on what a truffle can look like, but its closest equivalent, the black truffle looks more like a stone, with a more rounded shape and black or very dark grey exterior.
To learn more about truffles and how they’re grown, see our handy What is a Truffle guide.
How do truffles grow?
Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi, meaning that they share a symbiotic partnership with their host trees, hence why they are always found in close proximity and why surrounding flora appears differently in some cases.
Truffles are a seasonal fungus, but different varieties grow at different times of year. The most desirable Italian white truffles see their greatest numbers between December and January, leaving a small window of opportunity for truffle hunters to find them.
In modern day truffle cultivation, tree saplings are treated with truffle spores to help encourage growth of the fungus. After planting, it can take seven years for the first truffles to appear.
Once you’ve found your truffle, it’s important you know how to cook with them so read our guide on How to Cook With Italian Truffles to become a culinary master and impress your friends.
Looking for more ways to explore Italy? Why not look at our Great Outdoors experiences that explore the rich and picturesque countryside.