by David Downie
Truffles in Black and White: Part Two, Truffle Hunting in Piedmont, Italy
The scent of truffles is what draws trained dogs and pigs to them. Wild or cultivated, truffles grow at random around host trees and must be hunted out and carefully removed using a small pick or trowel.
Eighth-generation truffle hunter and dog trainer Renato Agnello, a wiry dynamo in his late 60s, teaches truffle hunting at Alba’s Centro Nazionale Studi Tartufi (CNST) and leads simulated hunts. In Alba’s main square, Piazza Risorgimento, Agnello opened the back hatch of a muddy FIAT Panda and introduced me to his aging truffle hound, Diana. We drove at breakneck speed into vineyards bordering the Tanaro River south of town. The smell of Diana, dirt and truffles was dizzying.
In Italy, truffle hunters must be registered, trained and licensed. Piedmont’s 10,000 are reputed to be secretive. Agnello was expansive. “I’ve been at it 61 years,” he laughed. “With people and dogs it’s genetic.”
Italian law states that truffles on public or private land belong to their finder. To keep truffle hunters out, private property must be fenced and posted “no trespassing.” Trespassing is common, however, particularly in central Italy’s commercial black truffle plantations (there are no white truffle plantations).