TRUFFLE HUNTING IN PROVENCE

 
Journey a land where the earth breeds precious nuggets of black gold, where men roam furtively to uncover such treasures, and where secrets to such an odyssey is passed on from one generation to the next in discreet whispers.  As elusive as the description of the truffle hunting appears, my experience at Joel Gravier truffière or truffle orchard was much tamer. Truffle hunting on closed grounds in broad daylight with a group of gleeful women gasping and squealing each time Mr. Gravier dug up a knobby black truffle, made it seem more like an Easter Egg hunt than a speculative adventure. But make no mistake, the thrilling tales of truffle poaching, robberies and scandals heard on the trail were more than enough to supplement my expectations of excitement and danger.


Often the first question people ask they find out that I went truffle hunting is: "Was there a truffle pig?" After all it is the traditional method dating back to the 15th century. Nope, we used another furry animal.
 

Why have pigs been replaced by dogs? 
  1. Pigs love to eat truffles. Pigs, particularly females, have a natural affinity toward truffles. Research indicates that truffles release scents that are identical to a pheromone produced male pigs. As such, it is not uncommon for the pig to eat the truffle or damage it before the hunter is able to intervene. Who can blame the pig for trying? Dogs, on the other hand, can be trained to sniff for truffles, are less eager to consume them, and are satisfied with alternative treats, making the venture mutually advantageous for both dog and owner.
  2. Dogs are easier to handle than pigs. Cute, furry and playful, make no mistake, pigs are strong and can get vicious, especially if you get between them and the object of their desire. A master fighting with its pig for a truffle can lose more than a precious nugget or two. In fact, there are a few hunters who sacrificed a few digits at the hands of getting between a pig and its truffle.
  3. Easy disguise. In a practice where the most fruitful trails are jealously guarded and motivations are deliberately disguised, walking dog through the woods is much less conspicuous than walking a pig.
  

Finding or training a dog to successfully hunt truffles is equally as interesting Some dogs have an exceptional talent, while others not so much. There are even truffle universities that exist to train dogs to find truffles. According to Mr. Gravier, good truffle dogs are hard to come by, and therefore well-guarded by owners. The truffle dogs in the picture above loved Sherry Page. They probably detected the scent of truffles from breakfast earlier in the day. 

 

With the guide of Joel Gravier (left) and Grisette, his dog, we headed to oak orchard. Typically truffle hunts are conducted mid-morning, when the air is crisp and clear. Arrive too early, and the ground might be too cold for the dog to detect any truffle aroma; too late and competing scents become a distraction.

 

When we arrived in the grove of oak trees, Mr. Gravier, called out to Grisette, "Alle chercher," which translates into 'go look,' each time pointing toward an oak tree. Grisette went straight to work, sniffing aggressively around the stump of each oak tree. When ripe truffles were detected, the dog either scratched the surface slightly or barked to summon his master.   


Joel Gravier quickly approches, sends his rake roughly six inches below the earth, lifting it to sift through the soil beneath, and voilà, a truffle is discovered! Over the course of the search Grisette finds about a dozen truffles, weighing roughly two pounds, with two locations that uncovered multiple nuggets. 

 

A pound of black winter truffles (melanosporum) can command $1200, so all in all it was a profitable morning. Within half an hour, Grisette's nose gave out and became too cold to smell any truffles beneath the earth, so it was a short but productive morning for her.


In other parts of the world, such as China, truffle harvesting involves raking through soil around oak trees. While effective, the method mostly brings forth immature truffles that are bland and absent of the fragrant qualities that make truffles so alluring, making them worth much less. Once harvested, truffles do not ripen.


On our trail, Joel Gravier told us that just days before, a local truffle hunter was beaten up pretty badly for his day's harvest. 

Image courtesy of Truffle Trees
 
While I didn't see any signs on Joel Gravier's truffle orchard, it is not uncommon for farmers to post warning signs of trespassing. There are cases of truffle poachers who come armed in the middle of the night to ferret truffles on private property. Likewise, property have threaten to shoot sight on scene. And in fact, there is precedence of casualties.

It's pretty tough for me to imagine such criminal behavior given that we were in a beautiful agricultural region populated by friendly neighborly farmers, but I guess money can make some people go crazy.

  

After our truffle hunt, we all headed to the farmhouse for a breakfast of truffle scrambled eggs. 

58 comments:

sophia said...

Oh, this brings nostalgia to me...not because I've been truffle-hunting myself, but because I once did a speech on truffles for my communications class....But I sure didn't have all these gorgeous pictures!
Great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Chef E said...

Aw Christine- This is stirring up a poem...They do not share truffle hunting in Italy, the truffle holds there's very secret and dear to no one...lucky biotch you! LOL

3 hungry tummies said...

Sounds like such a wonderful day out and the reward at the end is to die for.
You are right about the Chinese truffle, I tried some a while back and was not overly impressed.

Kathleen said...

This sounds like the most amazing day ever!

Sarah said...

I love the homes in provence! Can't convince my husband we need to live there quite yet. What an amzing trip!

Bob said...

Sounds like fun and those eggs look amazing!

Joanne said...

Truffle hunting looks like so much fun! I really hope I get to go someday. Maybe during my grad school years.

that breakfast that greeted you afterward looks divine! forget about the hunting, I just want the food.

Tara said...

That breakfast looks wonderful and the dog looks so sweet! I love dogs! (I also want a mini pig haha)

brad said...

Wow what a great experience thanks for sharing it and the interesting info about truffle hunting dogs.

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Christine, this is something I have never eaten before, but have heard of it.
I must try it one day. Looks delicious too.
Love your pictures.
You have a nice day and keep a song in your heart, Lee.

Ravenous Couple said...

love this post..your writing just took us there!

Janice said...

wow, I totally want to go to Provence after reading this. Great Post!!!

alwayswinner786 said...

Cute dogs! great hunt and a delicious breakfast! You have it all.
Great post thanks for sharing.

MaryMoh said...

Love this post. What a fun trip and I love all the pictures!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

These pictures are excellent! I have always heard of these expeditions, but you've let us see all the action. And what a breakfast!

Trissa said...

I wonder if I could train my labs to sniff for truffles... hehe... anyway, the scrambled eggs with the black truffles - super!

Pam said...

Such beautiful countryside, people, and those fuzzy lil creatures.

As a kid...well I still am...lol!...all my family members would go mushroom hunting and I had so much fun. I know I would have fun doing truffle hunting too...great post!

xoxo

Barbara said...

What an amazing post! I loved the info about dogs. And it's no wonder how much poaching there is when truffles bring in such a price!
Lucky you to have taken part and then to top it off with that fantastic egg dish! So elegant.

Great photos, super post and chock full of information!

Katherine Aucoin said...

Christine, this was so interesting. I knew a little about truffle hunting but had no idea it could be so dangerous! Even though it was dangerous, I bet it was just as exciting!

OysterCulture said...

What a wonderful trip. I loved all the great truffle facts on dog vs pig - but got totally distracted by what had to have been an incredible tasting truffled scrambled eggs.

Bellini Valli said...

This is fascinating Christine. You make us want to journey to France. But I was reading just the toher day of a truffle farm here in British Columbi and not far from here.

Yasmeen said...

Interesting,never heard of such an adventure as truffle hunting.The truffled egg scramble sounds super good :D

Mama Freemans' cafe' said...

You are so lucky to travel and meet these people and do what you do. Thanks for letting me live vicariosly thru you!

Emily Ziegler said...

What a wonderful post! Those dogs are simply the cutest!

Thanks so much for sharing.

Lori Lynn said...

I can't tell you how much I am enjoying your truffle posts. What an adventure!

OH MY look at those scrambled eggs!
LL

Divina Pe said...

I've been catching up on your trip to France. This is a great adventure and the scrambled eggs are a must have.

Ju (The Little Teochew) said...

OMG. THE best pics. That photo at the end? Worth all that hunting!

lisa said...

What a delicious hunt! I can almost smell the truffles from the photos, and those eggs must have been amazing.

HippieMom said...

What a Fascinating Brilliant adventure!

I enjoyed the story very much and I surely knows much more about truffles now.

xOxO

Kim said...

What a gorgeous countryside (and the dogs are cute too)! How peaceful this must have been in the cool quiet of the morning.

Bridgett said...

The countryside looks amazing and the pups are just darling. Truffle hunting sounds like a perfect way to spend the day.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

This must have been a trip of a lifetime Christine. I can't wait to show my husband these pictures.

That egg photo is spectacular. Wow. It's worthy of a cookbook cover.
Sam

The Chef In My Head said...

To heck with cookies in the cookie jar, I'm saving up for this trip!! ~LeslieMichele

nancy at goodfoodmatters said...

Christine, your adventure just keeps getting more and more compelling! This is my favorite Truffle post thus far---so engaging, rich with color and information.

and those eggs at the end, Mon Dieu!

magnifique!

lostpastremembered said...

I have always wanted to do this... go on a hunt for truffles... your story made me feel as if I had... great blog and photos... and oh those truffles!!!

Gloria said...

I love these pictures are georgeous and love truffles, look nice, gloria

5 Star Foodie said...

What an awesome experience! I hope I will get to do a truffle hunting like this one day! Love truffled scrambled eggs!

Angie's Recipes said...

That's a great experience! That farmhouse breakfast looks heavenly!

Sara said...

I can't even explain how much I love this post!!! I love the dogs. And the truffles. And the dogs!! Amazing!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

This looks like it would be quite the experience. I could really go for that egg - delish!

Chow and Chatter said...

wow so cool to know how they hunt truffles thanks so much for sharing and wow truffle scrambled egg!

msmeanie said...

Wow! That sounds so exciting. The photos are lovely as well. I agree - dogs seem like much better companions than pigs!

Lo said...

Just look at those gorgeous scrambled eggs... talk about affinity!

I can't believe there's such competition (and avarice) involved in truffle hunting! But, I suppose... anything that commands such a price...

La Table De Nana said...

I love this post..you take such amazing photos..Jain led me to you the first time.. I hope you do not mind if I follow you:)

the Provident Woman said...

That breakfast looks amazing.

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

What an adventure! I have read a bit about the truffle dramas in the woods.
If I went truffle hunting I would probably come home with bear poop!
I am loving this series.

tasteofbeirut said...

You made me laugh with your description of women squealing like it was an easter egg hunt or something!
Nice to go back for a refined breakfast like this!

Michelle said...

So cool about the truffle dogs! You can teach a dog to do just about anything!

Such gorgeous photos and wonderful dialogue, just like I was along for the truffle hunt!

Mimi said...

Love the truffle hunting trip. Fascinating information and beautiful pictures.
Mimi

Kitchen M said...

What a great experience! Thank you for sharing the pictures and taking us to virtural truffle hunting. :)

Carolyn Jung said...

What an incredible experience! I'm so envious. To be able to hunt down, harvest, and then cook with your very own black truffles -- that's a food memory for the ages.

Stella said...

Oh Christine, this is so nice. Truffle thieves, female pigs, scruffy pups instead of pigs, and expert truffle guys on the Provence countryside-sounds too wonderful.

Cinnamon-Girl said...

I like the idea of truffle hunting with a dog much better than with a pig! What a haul for a half an hour of work - although it seems more fun than like work.

Debinhawaii said...

Another incredible post--I am learning so much from your sharing of your truffle adventures!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

What a beautiful and informative post... it's almost like we were there with you (if only... sigh)

Katy ~ said...

I felt I was there, sniffing earth and air, feeling the sun on my back. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing this day with us.

Fuji Mama said...

Truffle hunting is something I meant to do when I lived in France, but never was able to do! SO JEALOUS! Oh, and eggs with truffles...one of my favorite combos.

Cristin said...

AMAZING!!!