How to Find the Precious White Truffle
Here in Europe, new hunters tend to start out looking for black truffles. Once they achieve this, after their initial delight, their thoughts then quickly turn to the prize amongst truffle – the precious white winter or tuber magnatum. Novices are anxious to learn if their dog can locate the valuable white truffles given that it is already finding other species. Good news everyone! Dogs trained to find black truffles should have no difficulty turning their skills to different species. There are variations in the aroma of the different types of truffle but the chemical compounds which the dog has learned to sniff out are present throughout the edible truffle varieties. The dog may need a little time to adjust but most animals make the transition from one species of truffle to another very rapidly.
The problem with white truffles is not the dog. The difficulty lies in finding those very rare places where white truffles grow. Forget the story that these truffles are Italian. While they do grow in nine or ten regions in Italy, more white truffles are found in the Balkans. It seems that tuber magnatum grow in a loose band which starts in the west in Italy and extends east over to Albania, Croatia, Serbia, stretching to Romania. This area extends to the north up to Hungary and Slovenia. Not all of the countries within this loose band produce truffles. There are several other factors affecting truffle growth, other boxes which need to be ticked. Before we get onto the topic of growth factors you need to check whether your country does actually produce white truffles. Finding this kind of information can be tricky as the search for white truffles tends to be clandestine. Having said that, hunters are inclined to brag or else need to sell their findings. So a thorough search on social media will probably reveal any truffle activity in your region. As will academic papers and these will often provide you with very useful information about tree species, altitude or soil composition specific to the area. Use Google scholar to get started. Another avenue is checking biodiversity data, this will give you a good idea of documented species growing in your country.
Having established that white truffles can actually be found in the country where you hunt, you can then start researching growth factors.
- Tree species
- Soil Composition
- Symbiotic Plants
Generally speaking you are looking for floodplain forests comprising oak, linden, beech and birch. These should be above sea level at an elevation of at least 70 metres. Truffles rarely grow at above 700m. They flourish in damp environments and the soil tends to be one of two types, a fine silt or a rich loamy soil with a pH of 7 and above. Did it rain in June and July? After a very dry, hot summer there may be no truffles at all in the winter. This may all sound rather vague but conditions will vary depending on the neck of the woods you are in. Once you have learnt to identify a typical growing site your eyes will become attuned to recognizing other potential truffle patches. The good news is that when you do find a spot which produces truffles, you can go back year after year and collect.
The bad news is that truffles are expensive for a reason, they are rare. This means that you will have to spend hours poring over maps. Armed with potential locations you will then need to drive around for days. Then there will be the weeks tramping around godforsaken spots in the winter damp and cold. If you have any romantic notions about hunting for truffles you should drop them quickly. It is often unpleasant and not many people are cut out for truffle hunting. If you are patient enough, then you will be compensated for your efforts – the triumphant feeling of finding your first truffle is indescribable. The rewards, if you are lucky, can be huge – white truffles can command extremely high prices especially around the holiday season. There are other compensations to be had along the way and hopefully these will sustain you on the difficult journey to your first truffle. You will create an entirely different kind of bond with your dog. You will learn about some of the most hidden aspects of nature and you will become stronger both physically and mentally. Learning to overcome difficulties, put aside frustrations and keep on going might be the best reward that truffle hunting has to offer us.