One of the tours we were excited about on our Rhone River cruise on AMAWaterways was the visit to a truffle farm. I’ve heard of truffles but the kind I like came from Godiva chocolates and have a filling. These are not that kind but rather the kind that grow underground and are the fruity body of a fungus, something akin to an earthy mushroom They are prized in cooking particularly in French cuisine.
Harvesting of the black truffle takes place from November to March. They grow underground which makes them difficult to find. In years past pigs were used to detect them but now dogs are primarily used because pigs tended to eat many of the truffles they found. The farm that we visited used Labrador Retrievers.
In order to “train” the dogs to find these delectable treats, they would rub a mother dog’s belly as she was nursing her pups. The pups would associate the smell of the truffle with “goodness” as they were suckling. Furthermore, once the pups had been weaned, they would cut up some of the truffles and add them to their food – once again imprinting on them that truffles were good.
Much like animal trainers of seals, dolphins or any other animal rewards their animal with a treat after they have done a trick, the truffle harvester also carries a treat bag wit them when they are out with their dog to give to the dog after the find the truffle and to get them to not eat the truffle.
The truffle harvester walks through a truffle orchard, which is generally a grove of oak trees, watching the dog’s behavior. The dog has his nose to the ground sniffing for that truffle aroma that he has come to know. The dog will either mark the spot with his foot and the harvester will dig it up or the dog will dig it up with its paw. At this point the harvester needs to act quickly to get the truffle before it is consumed by the animal. Once the harvester gets the truffle then the dog gets his doggie treat.
There are a few different types of truffles – black (associated with France) and white (associated with Italy). The white ones tend to cost the most, about $175 per ounce and the black ones about $100 an ounce. As you can tell, harvesting truffles takes lots of time and that factors in to their price.
We found this tour to be excellent. After we saw the dog digging up the truffles, we went inside their “shop” area and was treated to slices of baguettes with truffles and truffle oils on them. They were delicious, so delicious that we purchased a bottle of truffle oil to bring home. This is an ingredient that we have seen in cooking and now we have it to enhance our flavors.