Truffles are rare and difficult to locate and are probably the most expensive food in the world. A truffle is a strong smelling fungus, a rare mushroom, the fruiting body of the fungus. They can be found in Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America but the majority of edible truffles are in France and Italy and the forests of Oregon and Washington State in the U.S.
Pigs and dogs are trained to be truffle hunters. Pigs love to eat truffles and don’t need much training, making dogs the hunters of choice. Dogs have more stamina than pigs and are easier to train. And their incredible sense of smell lets them point out truffles only at their peak ripeness. Truffle-hunting dogs carry a hefty price (in the thousands of dollars) for the dogs themselves and their training.
Training a dog to sniff out truffles begins with learning to retrieve a rubber ball. A smelly cheese is then substituted for the ball. Lastly a truffle replaces the cheese after which the dog is taught to dig up the truffle after it is place under leaves, rocks and then soil.
Truffles are so valuable that there are laws in Italy controlling their hunting.
Truffles form partnerships with certain trees such as pines, firs, oaks, eucalyptus, birches, hickories, beeches and hazel nuts. These are the trees truffle hunters look for. The spores of truffles are spread by animals such as squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents who find them tasty.
If you ever decide to go truffle hunting, before eating your discovery, ask an expert to make sure they are the edible kind of mushroom and not a poisonous fungus.