I'm going to be honest...I've never eaten a truffle. I know they are highly coveted, but I prefer the hunt over the ingestion of a truffle. Traditionally, raw truffles can be shaved onto your meal, like freshly grated cheese, only much more expensive. Truffles can also be made into truffle butter. Truffles are aromatic and add an earthy flavor to food and drinks. The ancient Greeks believed that truffles were made when lightning hit the soil. The Egyptians ate them coated in goose fat.
Truffles are mysterious, expensive and hard to find...unless you're with a truffle dog from the Pacific Northwest!
I'm sure you know that truffles used to be hunted by pigs in Europe. How did dogs become truffle hunters?
Well, there is a very special breed of dog called The Lagotto Romangnola. They are an uncommon breed in The United States, not being recognized by AKC until 2015. The Logotto Romangnolo was originally bred as waterfowl dog in the Romagna region in Italy. At some point, the lakes in the region where the dogs worked dried out and the surrounding area turned to marsh. The breed nearly went extinct but the dogs were so loved by the peasants who hunted truffles that they taught the dogs how to hunt them too. Now, hunting truffles is what this breed is known for.
Truffles grow underground on the roots of certain trees, forming a symbiotic relationship. Truffle dogs use their keen sense of smell to find the truffles, and then dig them up. They alert to their humans that they have found a truffle by sitting or with a bark. The human partner then finds the truffle, fills in the hole that the dog just dug and, together, they move on to the next one.
Truffle hunters are very secretive about their locations and are good stewards of the land in the Pacific Northwest. They do not share locations to avoid over harvesting. They always fill in the holes that they've dug and they always pick up after their dogs. They may also pick up litter left behind from other people, leaving the land better than when they found it.
Truffle Hunting Dogs can actually be any breed, as long as the dog has the drive to do the work. Most good hunting days are rainy and gray and filled with mud. Some dogs thrive in an environment like that (as do some dog photographers), while other dogs may not be so thrilled about getting wet and dirty.
In the Seattle area, we have a very special truffle loving organization called The Truffle Dog Company, run by Alana McGee. Alana is one of only a handful of professional truffle dog handlers in North America who harvests native truffles. She is a Seattle treasure and if you have the chance to go out with her, you should take it!
Not only does The Truffle Dog Company sell truffles that local dogs have found, they offer adventures to get you out in the woods with their Truffle Dogs. (I highly recommend this experience)
If you're interested in training your dog to be a Truffle Dog, Alana has you covered! She offers a variety of classes for you and your dog to work together.
You can follow The Truffle Dog Company on Instagram.
I'm Holly and I specialize in photographing working dogs. I am currently creating another book for and about working dogs. If you'd like your working dog to be featured, registration is currently open to any working dog in the Pacific Northwest (or beyond).
I'm also available for private sessions for working dogs and for companion dogs.