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Truffle Hunting in Italy: Do We Use Pigs or Dogs?

Bonny Vita truffle hunting

 

“Do you still use pigs to find truffles?"

This is a recurring question I am asked by the public every time I have a food fair or a food event. It seems that the use of pigs in truffle hunting, is very common in the collective. Well, according to the Italian laws, the use of pigs is forbidden since 1985. Before this year it was very common to use pigs (they don't need specific training) rather than dogs to find truffles, especially in the North of Italy. The reason of this law is very simple: pigs destroy the environment and truffles are very sensitive to environmental changes.

 

Please let me tell you in more detail why we have this law. Pigs are one of the best animals, if not the best, to find truffles. It is something that is almost spontaneous for them and this is for a very simple reason: sex. It has been proved that truffles contain, in their chemical compounds, a lot of molecules of testosterone. This is the reason why, when we smell truffles, our body reacts in an exciting way. For pigs (and wolves, bears, porcupines, hedgehogs and even for some ants!) this effect is much stronger because, according to some research, they might think that there is a sow (or another female animal) ready to mate. Then pigs (and other animals) eat the truffles (because they really like them) and the spores can be so spread around through the faeces after digestion.

Among animals, pigs are the most sensitive to the truffle smell: experiments demonstrated that pigs can smell a truffle that is buried up to 9 feet (3 metres) in depth (to make a comparison, a dog can sniff a truffle up to 2 feet/1 metre in depth). However, there is a huge difference between a pig and a dog and this difference is the reason of the change in law: a dog digs exactly where the truffle is; a pig, instead, is like a scraper machine and, doing so, it destroys and changes the environment in which the truffle grows and truffles, unfortunately, are hypersensitive to any small environmental change. My Grandpa, about this topic, used to say: "moving a simple stone can give a lot of problems to a truffle to grow".

To clarify this concept: different roots in the ground, anthills or colony of different insects, the particular stratification of the soil, the lair of small animals.... and everything that we cannot see with the naked eye are all part of an incredible, but very fragile, micro ecosystem in which everything must be perfect, and in the right quantity, in order to have truffles. A pig, like a scraper machine, completely destroys this balance preventing the formation of other truffles in the same area. A dog instead, digging exactly where the truffle is, prevents all of the damages just listed. To make a joke: a dog is, for truffles, environmental friendly.

During the late 70s there was a huge demand for truffles and the use of pigs was predominant as hence mentioned. As you can imagine from what I said before, this "abuse" of pigs, together with the high demand of truffles, it deeply changed the environment, causing a collapse in the production of truffles during the following years. For this huge economic loss, the Italian Government, in 1985, decided to forbid the use of pigs in truffle hunting. Dogs, therefore, are the only animals that we can use in Italy to find truffles (unless you can keep and manage a bear or a wolf at home of course!).