Get on Board – Now is the Time to Start Truffle Hunting in the USA
If you live in the States, love being outdoors with your dog and are exploring ways to make extra income, then truffle hunting could be the opportunity you are looking for.
Truffle hunters have been active for decades in the USA with very little noise and not a lot of fuss. Recently, however, trends across the country have caused the rest of the truffling world to sit up and start taking notice. The last decade or so has seen a rapid development in the market for the US truffle species and it seems that the industry is on the verge of a boom. You may want to think about how you can take advantage of being in the right place at the right time and get involved in your local truffle industry. For a few dollars many of you will be able to start hunting and start making money doing so.
First off, let’s see why all the factors are in place for rapid growth in the industry.
Truffling in the USA is nothing new, particularly in The Pacific North West where people have been collecting truffles for several decades. However most of the truffles eaten in the States are exported from Europe.. American truffles were thought to be inferior in quality compared to their European cousins and they were not welcome in the kitchen. In the 1990’s these truffles were selling for 25 dollars a pound. Today the same truffle can sell for 800 dollars. So what happened?
The answer is that dog’s happened. Until pretty recently, US trufflers did all their collecting using a rake. Now this is a real hit-and-miss approach, an unreliable and time-consuming way to unearth truffles. The main problem is that you rake up all manner of truffles, some will be ripe but many will be immature and have no flavour and zero culinary value. Unsuprisingly, chefs had no use for these truffles. These tasteless fungi could be used as the natural ingredient in some otherwise chemical ‘truffle’ product but that was really as far as it went. There was no market for them, hence the ridiculously low price.
Anyway all that has been changing since the early 2000’s -trained dogs were brought in to do the job of finding truffles and they gradually started to replace the rake because they are so much betterat their job. With their expert noses, truffle dogs act as Quality Control sniffing out the truffles which are ready to be eaten – the perfectly ripe specimens. And to everyone’s surprise, the US truffles, when harvested correctly, have an amazing flavour and are in no way inferior to the European species
Despite these changes, chefs were just not interested, they had been burned once before with inferior local fungi. Once they were persuaded ,though, they quickly got on board and it is certainly in their interests to lend their support to the American truffle. To start with, these local products solve the shelf life issue. Truffles don’t last very long and their aroma begins to diminish as soon as they leave the earth. This means that, despite the protestations of the European truffle companies, despite the exorbitant price tag, Italian and French truffles are never truly fresh by the time they reach the plate of a fine diner on the west coast of the USA.
Local produce is always going to be fresher and with truffles it’s all about freshness. Chefs are practical people and the move away from this particular import makes sense. As well as this, a move to locally harvested truffles fits in nicely with current lifestyle trends. Customers these days are concerned about what they eat, where it is produced, carbon footprints and such like.
So now we have a product which is starting to be appreciated for really great ingredient that it is and the reputation for US truffles is growing. Let’s see what happens to the price as a result.
The difference in price between when dogs are used versus rakes speaks volumes about quality. You can see too, that US truffles when collected in the European way are commanding prices close to the most expensive European black truffle -the Perigord or tuber melanosporum. Some rakers are stubbornly clinging onto their tools and downplaying the damage caused by the practice they favour. The fact is that raking causes soil erosion, it destroys upper root structures, creates havoc in a delicate ecosystem and it is unsustainable as it tends to wipe out future generations of truffles. Raker, if that doesn’t concern you, then just think about the profits and get a dog.
Raking is not practised in Europe where the truffle business is a lot older. The industry depends on its reputation for a quality product and raking does not give a quality product . We have a different set of problems here in Europe the main one being that truffle production is in decline. Droughts, changes in climate and agricultural practice and other, as yet undetermined, factors are all contributing to a steady decline in the European species. This has been occurring since the start of the 20th century. Meanwhile global demand for truffles is increasing and the US is home to an abundance of world class species. In the States, truffles grow pretty much year round from the Douglas fir forests of the North West to the pecan orchards of the south east, the states are packed with truffles.
Despite this abundance, US supply cannot keep up with the demand for truffles. What you need now are more dedicated hunters – dog and human truffle hunting teams to take the industry forward. If you love exploring and are willing to persevere, you can be paid very well, but it is not a get rich quick scheme…truffling can be hard work and it is not steady work so it is not for everyone. Foragers will be the first to start making the transition to truffle hunter, these are the people who can quickly turn their hobby into their livelihood. They already have the forest skills, they just need to add a dog to the mix.
Most trufflers start off with hunting as a weekend activity and it develops organically from there. Once you have started to find your first truffles, hunting becomes a hobby that can sustain itself. If you don’t have much left from your monthly budget to spend on leisure then truffling is a godsend. Many people get hooked on truffling pretty quickly. After all, there’s a great element of excitement as you are literally looking for buried treasure. You might find that you want to devote yourself to truffling and give up your day job, As you get to know the field well, other doors of opportunity will open themselves before you and you will see all the ways that you can branch out to compensate for the lean seasons. Planting a small truffle orchard to begin with, dog training, organising truffle tours, making truffle products. There’s a whole truffle economy starting up, so what a great time to get involved and help it grow.
For years now the US has been behind the curve as far as truffling is concerned, however the country is quickly catching up, practices are improving and there has been a surge in information to help would-be hunters get started. US truffles are in demand but supply is low which means that prices are still high if you get in now. There is still plenty of room for many more truffle hunters on this huge continent and if you live in the right place, truffles could be growing in your back yard. Whatever the case, for a very small outlay you can get started. All you need is a ten-dollar bottle of truffle oil (any brand,any kind of truffle – it’s all chemical) to start training your dog.
If you’d like to find out more, this site has several articles and videos dedicated to training your dog to find truffles. These videos will get you started and help you deal with any issues you meet along the way. There are also videos about truffle hunting which will give you an idea about what to expect. You will also find all the information you need to learn how to recognize the forests and growth factors when you are doing your own exploring.
This growth in the US industry should result in more affordable and better tasting local products. Perhaps more importantly it might lead to happy times for people who want to earn their living out in the forests working with their dog. It is a peculiar job and not many people are suited to it, but for foresty types, nature lovers, dog collaborators this is a dream job, the chance to be your own boss in an environment where you really feel at home.