“The relationship between a truffle hunter and his dog is as symbiotic as the relationship between a truffle and a tree,”
Borgogni muses, stroking Ivan’s ears before the creature dashes off to nose out the next cache. Usually Lagotto Romagnolo or mixed breed, truffle dogs are trained from birth, often with the scent of truffle rubbed on their mother’s teat to inculcate the fragrance. It’s an interspecies partnership and a generational tradition that convinced UNESCO to add Italian truffle hunting to its World Heritage List in 2021.
Truffle hunters long worked alone with their dogs, and were known to obscure the exact spots they unearthed their bounty so they could return there the following year in hopes of repeating their fortune. Today, while many continue to search the woods at night for maximum secrecy, joining in more accessible truffle outings has become a popular activity for curious visitors seeking “a hunt without harm,” as Borgogni calls it.
In Tuscany and Piedmont, group truffle hunts are common throughout the fall, with spots available through innumerable activity sites and many accommodation providers in the countryside. The experience is timeless and almost primal. Foraging for truffles is an exhalation of nature as it exists beyond the control of farming, beyond the sanitization of supermarkets. Led by a resolute dog and a hunter, visitors have the thrill of seeing this ambrosial prize plucked from the earth. The best trips end with a meal.
Tuscany and other regions, notably in San Miniato and San Giovanni d’Asso, are full of sagre, the seasonal food festivals of Italy that celebrate a specific local ingredient. Many of these are dedicated to truffles, the bounty prepared with traditional recipes in portions designed to feed a whole town. Yet to experience the hunt itself is to participate in a preindustrial ritual, a sort of sensorial worship of nature and its redolent wonders. The wild mystery and heady allure of truffles are best grasped in that hushed moment, breath held, between hunter and dog in the woods.