Train Your Dog to Hunt Truffles (Part 3)
Where do you go from here? Your dog can recognize the truffle aroma even when it is buried. He or she can locate the source of the smell and dig it out. Congratulations you now have a truffle dog. So what happens now that you are ready to find truffles in the wild. Where should you go?
Your first instinct might be to go and ask an experienced hunter where the best places are. That would be wonderful but unfortunately people tend to keep pretty quiet on the subject of where to find truffles. Information on growing sites has often been passed on or it is kept within the close family. This may seem a little mean-spirited but it helps to remind yourself that, for the most part, these truffles patches have been painstakingly identified after years of tramping the countryside. Truffle hunters feel justified in keeping them secret especially if they serve as a source of income. As you begin to discover truffle growing areas for yourself, you will understand why hunters are secretive. Truffles are rare and elusive. Finding the places where they grow takes effort, patience, time and brain power. You do not become a truffle hunter overnight through shortcuts.
This secrecy can make it exceedingly difficult for beginners to get started. Though there are ways past these initial hurdles. Everyone was a beginner at some point and had to amass information over time. Trufflers will be reluctant to reveal exactly where to find truffles but they might tell you how to find them. It is fairly simple. The key to finding truffles is research. Then once you have done this initial groundwork you put on your boots and start exploring.
To begin with you will need to research which truffles are found in your area and what time of year they grow. Find out which truffles people hunt in your region and in which months these species mature.
Maybe you have absolutely no idea which truffles have been found in your country and in which regions. In that case, sites such as the National Biodiversity Network for the UK and the forestry service in the USA might be good places to start. These databases contain maps pinpointing areas where species have been officially identified.
Take logistics into account. Travelling long distances to hunt truffles will be costly – you will quickly tire of it and constantly be outfoxed by local hunters
Once you are clear about which truffle is a viable quest, then you can start researching. Your aim is to read up on the optimum growth factors for the truffle in question. It could be growing in forests, woods, copses, clumps of trees at the side of the road, in woodrows next to fields, maybe even in your garden. You don’t want to start hunting indiscriminately, looking for the old needle in a hay stack. Your job is to recognise the factors which go together to make a perfect ecosystem in which your truffle can flourish. There are different criteria for each species and you need to establish the criteria before you begin. I can’t be more specific here as conditions will vary from country to country and obviously from hemisphere to hemisphere. Altitudes may differ, the seasons will vary too as we go further north. This means that you need to find information specific to your region.
Where to find information
Don’t read up on truffles generally, focus on the truffle you want to find in the area you want to find it. Learn all about it. There are several resources you can use – Google will be a great help although research papers on sites like Google scholar will give you more in depth information.
In addition the mycology and truffle subreddit and various related forums are an invaluable source. As you research the truffle in question, you will find descriptions of the species of tree the truffle favours. It goes without saying that truffles won’t be found in every place where such trees grow.
It is not a simple equation of
The excitement of having your own truffle dog can quickly turn to frustration as it becomes clear that you only have the first part of the equation. You can’t wander into some random forest and expect to find truffles. It has to be the right kind of forest with the right set of growing conditions.
What other factors need to be figured in?
Altitude – the forest must be at a certain height, there is usually a range, generally speaking you don’t find truffles at high altitude nor do you find them at sea level
Exposure – dense forests do not usually produce truffles, there needs to be light, how much sunlight varies from species to species
Rainfall – truffles favour damp areas, if there has been no rain in an area in the summer then the winter truffles will be greatly affected. Summer truffles need heavy spring rains.
Trees – each species of truffle can grow on the roots of specific trees, the species and age of the trees need to be factored in. Forests should be at least 15 years old
Symbiotic plants -as well as the trees, the presence of certain plants can be a good indicator of truffle growth, fungi too. Mushroom foragers can usually make the transition to truffler quickly and easily
Soil composition – different truffles grow in different soils, make sure that the soil in the area you are searching is compatible with the truffles you hope to find
Ph of soil – another factor which will help determine whether a place is suitable for truffles to grow or not. Truffles usually prefer a soil PH of over 7.5
The equation is starting to look more like this:
In order to research these growth factors, your main research materials will be maps. All manner of maps. Google satellite maps, maps showing altitude, geological maps which will give you some idea of the soil and forestry maps which will show you what species of trees you will find growing. Read up on plants, soil, trees. Arm yourself with knowledge and then get out into the field.
Your exploration should be as organised as possible. Make a list of potential places and work through them, gradually ticking them off. There is a process of elimination in hunting, akin to detective work. People tend to think that truffling involves you walking around a forest all day. In actual fact there is a good deal of driving. You move from place to place and scout it out to get a feel for the area. Is it the right kind of ecosystem? Does it have the factors you are looking for? If it seems too shady for example or not damp enough or the soil is not right, then you move on. Whatever the conditions, keep notes, record what you find in each place you visit. Then drive on to the next spot.
Tools and tricks
A GPS and binoculars are very useful tools in your exploration but the best tool is a keen eye and attention to detail . Use your skills of observation, don’t miss other indicators of truffle growth. These could be holes made by animals. However careless truffle hunters can leave holes too. Smell the soil to see if there is any of the truffle aroma. Rubbish in a location which is off the track, especially a dog snack, is a good clue. Look out for tyre tracks or you might stumble across another hunter or at least someone with a lagotto- this dog is always a dead giveaway as to what your business is. Read up on the truffle flies and beetle native to your region and be on the look-out for them in the forest.
Check whether there are any truffling groups in your area or check out online truffling communities. Occasionally you will meet like-minded individuals, generous souls who will help you out . If there are any truffle dog companies or trainers in your region they can be invaluable. They are in the business of selling dogs and to do so need to convince buyers of the existence of truffles. This means that they are often rather liberal with information about truffle sites – much to the annoyance of older truffle hunters. However this can work in your favour as a novice. Also if you have a couple of hundred euros to spend, it may be worth having a trainer take a look at your dog just to check that the animal is on the right track. Some dogs find it more difficult than others to make the transition between finding ‘truffles’ which you have planted to finding actual truffles in the forest. If your dog is not finding truffles, a truffle dog trainer should be able to sort this out and point you both in the right direction. If you are short on cash find out if there are truffle cultivations nearby, they might allow you to try out your dog in an area where you know for sure that truffles are growing. When some time has passed and your dog is not finding wild truffles you want to know for sure that it is not missing them. Until your dog does find truffles in the forest you should keep up with stage 2. When you are not hunting you must continue hiding truffle balls outdoors in increasingly trickier hiding places. There is the possibility that your dog is following your scent and is looking for something you have buried. To eliminate this possibility you can get a friend to bury truffles for you.
As you will have begun to understand, truffle hunting requires tenacity, commitment and discipline. Above all you need a sense of fun and adventure- you really have to enjoy it to keep going through the inevitable frustrations. Until the marvellous day that you find your first truffle. Until that time, enjoy yourselves, enjoy the forest and enjoy working together, pooling your abilities, strengthening this ancient bond of man and dog at work, together.