Meet Emma, who works at Tartufi Bianconi in southern Umbria.
Q: How did you become a truffle hunting dog?
Well, for starters, I was born a poodle. That’s important – only a few breeds are good for truffle hunting. Farmers also work with german shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and even these funny looking brothers called Belgian Malinois.
Q: Are you scared about being put out of business by a pig?
Actually, I’m a lot easier to fit in the backseat of a car than a pig.. plus im cleaner and smell better!
The inside “pig” story is..
Many truffles produce a scent that mimics a male pig sex hormone. It is for this reason that female pigs have been used historically in Europe to help find truffles. More recently, dogs have become the preferred truffle hunting companion, mostly because they can be trained to find, but not eat the truffles!
Q: In your own words, Emma, tell us exactly what thrills you about this sport, or should we call it a “career”…
The treats! When I’m out truffle hunting with my farmer/master, I smell the booty, and start to dig it up. The things are pretty valuable, though, so the farmer doesn’t want me to eat it.. by mistake! So as soon as he sees me digging, he calls me off. I’ve been taught to roll over, belly up (no idea why this demeaning pose is necessary, but..) and I’d do ANYTHING FOR A TREAT!
It’s just a little bite, but I do this about 25 times each morning, so my overall take is pretty good!
Q: Is truffle hunting seasonal, or do you have a favorite season to “hunt”?
Fall is my favorite! In October and November, there’s the Alba White Truffle – the call is the Precious Whites.
The Winter Black Truffle – sometimes called the Perigord – is harvested all the way thru early March.
The Burgundy, or Summer truffle is not really harvested in summer.. rather in September.
For me it’s all the same though — running, barking, eating…
Q: What special education do you need? Do you have a graduate degree, or need Continuing Ed to stay abreast of the latest trends?
I was trained alongside drug dogs, bomb detection dogs, cadavar dogs, and search and rescue comrades. It was a little scary, and—frankly – I’m glad I landed here on the farm, instead on in the NYPD!
Once a K9 like me enters a truffle training program, he generally receives two to four months of scent training, obedience training, and search work before going out “on the job.”
Q: Do you hunt up other stuff, too – like shoes, or squirrels?
No, I learned the hard way – it’s truffles or nothing! Actually truffles have a unique smell. In fact, each KIND of truffle has a unique smell. I was taught all that in school. So I go after only the REAL mccoy.
Q: Did you watch the “60 Minutes” piece about truffle crimes?
I did, and it was true! I stayed up that night, trying to sort it all out. Since i’m a fully-trained truffle dog, I’m worth about $12,500. But truffles cost $300-$600 PER POUND! I tried to do the math, and compute my REAL value since i weigh about 30 pounds, but it was so confounding, it made me pee on the bathroom rug!
Q: What would you like to tell the many guests and tourists who come to your farm for a visit? (besides to remember a K9 treat for a tip)?
I’d tell them to not leave the farm without doing a cooking lesson. My “Mom” makes truffle-stuffed chicken rolls, shaved truffle over souffle, truffle sauced over tagatelle, and the precious white truffles sauteed in butter!
Q: Do you live in a kennel with other dogs, or in the house with your master?
A kennel? YIKES! No, I have a built-in couch in my farmer’s sunroom, and a chair in the TV room that I’m not happy to share! Plus, I get the middle of the bed, as long as I get there first!
Here I am with the gal who interviewed me. I think she likes me!