La Morra in Piedmont is one of the premium white truffle spots in the world. It has all the favorable conditions. The blend of oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees specifically suited for the white truffle (Tuber Magnatum), calcareous soil, and cool mornings when the dog can easily sniff the truffle’s aroma however deep it might be. The empress of all truffles, the white truffle, only grows in Northern part of Italy and rarely also appears in Tuscany and Abruzzo, as well as the Istrian coastal countries of Croatia (the biggest truffle was found there) and Slovenia.
Truffles are fungi, growing under the ground near to roots of trees. They live in a symbiosis with these roots in a mycorrhiza, benefiting each other and nourishing each other.
The origin of the word truffle comes from Latin term “tuber”, meaning “swelling” or “lump”.
Pigs are still being used to search for truffles, it is cheaper than using specially trained dogs, but compared to dogs, the pigs often end up eating the praised truffle, so it may end up costing the forager more. It takes about two to three years for the dog to learn how to find the fragrant mushroom. They must start when they are very young puppies, and step-by-step acquire an affection for the aroma.
When the dog waves his tail vigorously after sniffing around one spot for a while it means that something is down there.
Voila! After only 10 minutes in the steep forest surrounding La Morra, we found our first white beauty.
The dog digs into the Earth himself, but in order to get some truffles deep down, his master needs to help and dig it out carefully with a small hammer. It sometimes happens that he cuts into the tuber, but this makes it almost impossible to sell so he has to consume it himself. For Ezio, our truffle guide and a veteran of the local mountains, it is not a big problem since he has a family-run restaurant in la Morra, where his wife prepares simple and delirious local specialities with truffles.
The fruits of our hunt were delicious on the plate. So fresh and fragrant! As the locals love it – shaved on eggs. The rule with truffles is; the simpler is the meal you serve them with, the more their aroma comes out.
But it is not always as easy to find a truffle. The truffle searcher has to go to the forest daily to check if any of the truffles started to attract the dog, meaning that it is in its peak and should be collected and eaten. If left underground for longer, then all the aroma disappears. The communication between the dog and its master is vital. Ezio uses words in Piedmontese dialect to encourage the dog and rewards him with cookies when the dog finds something.
The protective rules of the forest must also be respected. Local rangers check for violations. On the top of that, nobody likes if you “steal” his truffles from his forest, so it is always better to search at your own property as Ezio does.
Their truffle restaurant in La Morra is popular not only for people, who join him for the search (paid tour, cost changes depending on the size of the group and necessity of a translator since he speaks only Italian, but his sympathetic daughter does the job very well for an extra €50).
Going to the forest with the dog and his master to search for truffles is an unforgettable experience, that any serious foodie should add into his ‘must-do’ list of travel adventures. Eating the fresh truffle as soon as you found it gives you tantalisingly fragrant reward for your earlier effort hiking up and down the forest. Piedmont after all still remains the kingdom of the white truffle as the totally packed annual White Truffle Festival in Alba confirms.