Truffle Hunting in Emilia-Romagna

By Mr. TWS

Truffles are like gold.

I’d heard of truffle hunting before and understood the concept, but for whatever reason I always pictured the practical joke called “snipe hunting”. When we had a chance to try truffle hunting in a place where truffles are treasured and commonly hunted, I was excited by the opportunity. Our guide for the truffle hunt was Matteo Cameli of the family that had “adopted” us during our stay in Portico di Romagna.

"Matteo Camel of Al Vecchio Convento leading the truffle hunting travel bloggers"

Matteo Cameli and the truffle-hunting bloggers

Like many of the activities we had there, we were able to see the beautiful Apennine hills and we were also able to get in some much needed exercise to slightly compensate for the delicious course-after-course meals at Al Vecchio Convento. Additionally, we were able to learn about these activities that were far less familiar to us.

"Matteo Cameli showing us the tool used to dig truffles before our truffle hunting experience"

Matteo showing us the truffle digging tool

We arrived at the site of the hunt and Matteo patiently began introducing us to the activity, above showing the tool he would use to dig the truffles, if we found any. Then he introduced us to Otto and Rex, the stars of this show. They had been silent in their cages in the back of the van but now emerged frisky and ready to run. They are a special breed of Italian retriever, the Lagotto Romagnolo, that are bred and trained for truffle hunting and are the preferred breed of truffle hunters in this region. (Lagotto Romagnolo is Italian for “lake dog from Romagna”. All water retrievers are believed have been their descendents and they have been used for hunting for many centuries.) Rex has white fur white and is the oldest. Although Otto might be faster in finding some truffles, Matteo said that Rex was more reliable; if Rex appeared to locate a truffle, there was always a truffle there, while Otto had occasional false alarms.

"Specially trained truffle-hunting dogs, Otto and Rex"

Matteo and his dogs, Otto and Rex

Rex is about four years old and Otto about three. They each have more than ten years of hunting left. This type of dog can be purchased young and untrained or they can be purchased when they are older and trained. The price varies as you would expect based on lineage, age and whether they were trained. Buying a trained dog provided the additional advantage of eliminating risk of whether the breeding held true and they were useful for truffle hunting. Though Matteo had never entered them in competition, he had been told that Otto would be sure to win based on his appearance. (There are competitions of two kinds, one for appearance as a typical dog show, one for their ability to hunt truffles.)

But back to our hunt.

We continued down a path through the woods as Matteo told us more about truffles.

Matteo and a group of fellow truffle hunters belong to a cooperative that has truffle hunting rights issued by the Italian government. Anyone else caught hunting there will be arrested. The area was chosen by the cooperative because it has conditions that are conducive for truffle growth. Trees of the right type are quite important. There is a unique symbiosis between the fungus (of which truffles are the fruit) and the tree. In addition to the correct initial conditions, the cooperative had cleared sections of the land as shown below to make the conditions even more ideal for truffle growth.

"Into the woods near Portico di Romagna for truffle hunting"

Into the woods – a cleard area for better truffle-hunting

Matteo also set our expectation. He said it would be fortunate if we found one truffle. Others in our group of 4 bloggers felt we would find none, I felt a weak hope for 2 but Sweeney, ever positive, felt highly confident about finding five truffles. Then it was time for the hunt to begin. Matteo got set to release Otto and Rex…

… and they were eager to get at it. As soon as the leashes were off, they bolted into the forest with a purpose.

"Trained truffle hunting dog sniffing for truffles in woods near Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Otto searching for truffles

Matteo whistled subtle commands when Otto was distracted. He kept them from going to the area much more likely to have white truffles, which would not be in season until October. We were seeking the in-season black truffles today. (By season was meant not a government mandated time, like deer hunting in the U.S., but the time when edible truffles would be found}.

All of a sudden, Matteo sprinted toward Otto. He was digging for a truffle. Matteo quickly knelt by his side, checked for pay dirt and rewarded Otto with a treat. Then, holding Otto at bay, Matteo got ready to investigate. (The dogs like to eat truffles too, though not nearly as much as pigs. I had previously thought that pigs were usually used for truffle hunting, but that’s not correct primarily because pigs are more likely to eat the truffles than dogs.)

The video below shows what happened next.

Matteo used his digging hoe to carefully dig around the truffle and extract it. Then he handed it to Sweeney who sniffed, observed and passed it to the others. Everyone was surprised. The look and scent weren’t quite what we expected. It smelled subtly of garlic.

Within a minute, Matteo looked up and this time really bolted in pursuit of Otto. We hesitated, and then scrambled in hot pursuit. When we arrived, Matteo was already holding a second truffle. Apparently, this one was much closer to the surface. Both of the truffles that had been found were good size. Matteo continued to educate as he talked about the sizes and prices. They’re more expensive per gram when larger and the white are considerably more expensive than the black ones.

We were all excited, vicariously taking part in the success.

With their work done, Rex and Otto were free to romp in the beautiful setting.

Ah, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have had truffle sauces but don’t think I’ve ever had fresh truffles alone on anything. I was curious what it would be like. For breakfast in the restaurant the following morning we had scrambled eggs on which Matteo had grated one of “our” truffles.

"Shaved truffle on scrambled eggs at Al Vecchio Convento, Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Shaved truffle on scrambled eggs

Delicious!

This is our contribution to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Our thanks to the Associazione Nazionale Alberghi Diffusi for making our Emilia-Romagna experience possible.

48 thoughts on “Truffle Hunting in Emilia-Romagna

  1. Marcia

    SO, what how did it taste? How did it smell? Did you like it?
    I think I saw something on TV once, maybe on 60 Minutes on truffle hunting. It looks and sounds like fun. Those dogs are very special. Would you have been able to find any on your own?

    Thanks for linking up, Cathy!

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the questions. It was a unique taste and delicious. As in my previous comment, I really expected it t be something you needed to acquire a taste for but they were great. The smell was very much like garlic. Not much garlic in the taste. More really good mushroom.

      I loved the dogs. They were really just so energetic without being loud or annoying. I liked the way they dig. Similar to other dogs, just way more productive; the dirt was flying. They seemed to really like looking and then to be able to run in the field. We didn’t try looking on our own but I would think it would be impossible unless you were really lucky. It was a neat thing to do and with so much to do the 2 hours or so it took was just right to gather it all in.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      It was a great activity. Matteo was one of our favorite people we met on a long trip. The truffles on our eggs were yummy. Thanks for commenting.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We didn’t know what to expect and it was a great activity. Learned a lot. Got into the excitement of the hunt though the dogs did all the work. Even Matteo was not much more than an observer. It did feel decadent – truffles on our eggs. I really liked the concept of the Cameli family being so self-sufficient. The restaurant was really top notch and the fact that they could use truffles in their dishes because they could find them rather than paying the exorbitant prices they demand was impressive. They also got fresh produce daily from the farm. The cyber bite would have been delicious. Thanks for the comment.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      This part of our trip (in Portico) was great. The Cameli family made it very special and it was the setting, the small group and Matteo that made this interesting activity really special. We had a great time. I am curious about white truffles. We’ll have to get back there in the fall when they’re in season. They’re deeper than the black ones. Thanks for the comments.

  2. Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer)

    The videos are a very nice addition, but I admit that the sound track to the one of the dogs frolicking in the field brought back cringeworthy images of Mitt Romney awkwardly/inappropriately imitating that song at a campaign stop. So, how much does a truffle cost — or is something like saffron that you would buy by the half gram?

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for commenting. I really liked Sweeney in the videos. I never give her warning and they’re always unscripted – in the moment reactions. Sweeney added the sound I think because she knows I find the song fun and funny. Was that election 5 years ago? iI really seems so.

  3. Jennifer

    How fun and interesting to go truffle hunting! It’s awesome you found some. I always thought truffle season was only in October. Italy has tons of truffle festivals then to celebrate the harvest.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      It was more fun than we expected and we had high expectations. October is season for white truffles so that would make sense to have the festivals then – also less hot. Even if the dogs hadn’t found any, it would have ben lots of fun. But the purpose of a hunt is to find some so that was great but also that we got to see the whole process of digging them up, touching and smelling a fresh truffle and of course there was the eating.

  4. Marisol

    Hi Cathy,
    I love truffles and your breakfast made drool! I can just taste those divine shaving.
    Your truffle hunting looks a lot a fun and the sceneries look so lovely. I’d love to this one day.
    Rex and Otto are super adorable.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      They were adorable; I love dogs but they were special, even without their invaluable skill. The scenery was a big part of the experience. As I mentioned above, just the dogs and scenery made this a hit, Finding and then eating took it over the top. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    Fascinating! I would have loved to come along on this hunt. I had also assumed that pigs would be used. I’ve only had truffle oil, so I’m now wondering what in the world fresh truffle taste like. I had always pictured the shavings smaller, more like grated lemon peel, than the slices that are on your eggs.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. It never occurred to me as I wrote this but I would have pictured smaller shavings. They were scrumptious. If you get the chance, a truffle hunt would be lots of fun. If you could stay at Al Vecchio Convento, that would be the best. Matteo and Otto and Rex made it extraordinary.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      I love dogs but these were extra special even without their valuable special skills. Hope you get to try them; the fuss is warranted. Thanks for commenting.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      This breed is an ancient water retriever and have been used for truffles only the last hundred fifty years or so. Thanks for the comments.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      It certainly was a treat. Even the dogs that did all the work didn’t seem to have to work that hard at it. Thanks for the comments.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Snipe hunt always makes me smile. Given the price of truffles it seemed like an easier thing to find them than I expected. Maybe the dogs are especially good or we were just very lucky. Fun activity. Thanks for the comments.

  6. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    Welcome back from your wonderful Italian trip! This sounds so fun and interesting! It looks like a great way to be outdoors and reap the benefits of it too. I’ve only had truffle oil but those shavings with the eggs look delicious. The dogs are adorable! My cousin, who just moved to Eugene, OR, was telling me that truffle hunting is big there including a truffle festival. I may need to check that one out thanks to your post.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      I think Oregon is one of the few places in the US where it is mentioned. Same here on the truffle oil, as far as I remember. The eggs WERE delicious. Just the activity was lots of fun and very informative; the eating was a real bonus. Thanks for the comments.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We’d never had them before but they were yummy. Breakfast time here and would really love to have some. As I re-watched the videos I chuckled each time. I thought Sweeny was really cute in both of them. Thanks for the comments.

  7. jenny@atasteoftravel

    Truffles on scramble eggs would have to be the ultimate taste sensation! We were in Alba for the truffle fair one year and I still remember the amazing aroma as we walked into the room where the truffles were being sold. Next time I would definitely love to go out with the dogs on a truffle hunt!

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. I believe that Alba would have been white truffle season. That site comes up a lot around white truffles. Hope you get to get on a truffle hunt and have the luck we did with Matteo, his dogs and actually finding 2 of good size.

  8. Leigh

    I have certainly learned something with the blog. I had no idea dogs were used to sniff truffles out – nor how strict the Italians were with interlopers. I love truffle oil on fresh pasta and I can only imagine how tasty the real McCoy would be.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Same here with regard to truffle oil and first time fresh truffles. I wasn’t sure what to expect but they were delicious and the texture very interesting, especially on eggs. Before this, I always thought it was pigs as well. But it’s clear the many advantages of dogs with I believe no downside. For me, far more desirable pet, and the easier to keep from eating the truffle part seems huge. Thanks for commenting.

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