Truffle Hunters Find Forest Treasures
Switzerland has a dark secret. But it’s also a delicious one. For millennia the remote woodlands of Western Switzerland have hidden one of the most sought after culinary ingredients: The truffle. Only recently discovered, foodies are flowing from all over to taste truffles in the land of glaciers, waterfalls, and trendy ski resorts. Although not the almost mythical White Alba Truffle, the Black Summer Truffle (T. aestivum and T. uncinatum) found in Switzerland nestles underground among the gnarled roots of oak, beech, hornbream, and chesnut. This rare and tasty fungus has gained enthusiastic fans across the globe. Fetching hundreds of dollars per kilo, the truffle exudes a distinctive and exotic aroma when it arrives at peak maturity and maximum flavor. But how do you find one? That’s where Yenna comes in. She’s a Lagotto Romangnolo--a breed of dog with a special nose. She will help you find a truffle, if there's one to be found.
Pierre Masson, a devoted truffle hunter, explains that no chausseur de truffe, regardless of education or experience, can find a truffle without a canine assistant. “You have to have a dog—one that’s been trained to identify the subtle scent of a mature truffle.” That’s where Yenna comes in. She’s a Lagotto Romangnolo--a breed of working dog with a special nose. She will help you find a truffle if there's one to be found. Imagine yourself in search of a truffle in a dense Swiss forest—all senses on high alert for a small, dark, morsel hidden under several inches of leaves and soil. You can’t help but get excited as the adventure begins.
On a late autumn truffle hunt, we drive to a remote woodland glade with the sun peeking through the leafless branches. When Pierre opens the SUV hatchback, Yenna scampers into the forest where it is only a matter of seconds before she begins routing in the leaves and then, with tail wagging frantically, she is pouncing and pawing at the soil. As she digs feverishly, Pierre rushes to her side where he pokes around with a pointed digging tool until he delicately extracts a mud-caked and bumpy black truffle from the dirt. It is about the size of the end of your thumb. You know what that's called in the world of truffle hunting? Success.
The discovery of any truffle is cause for jubilation. We carefully study the truffle in Pierre’s hand. Black knobby exterior, tan marbled interior, characteristic smell, notably dense and heavy--it is a perfectly formed truffle. Pierre drops the valuable little dark gem into his canvas truffle pouch. Together we sniff the soil that has just held this rich prize. From the ground where this remarkable fungus emerged, there is a noticeable trace of the distinctive aroma a truffle gives off at its peak of flavor. I can identify the distinct fragrance after the fact, but know I would never be able to drag my nose along the ground to find a spot to start digging by scent alone. But Yenna can. And does. And she is 100% accurate. A truffle every time. Sometimes two. It’s mind boggling.
Then it’s back to the chalet to start preparing a truffle lunch. We have just enough time to gently scrub the truffles, mince them, and stir them into softened butter. The black-speckled butter-truffle blend is then slathered on crusty chunks of a freshly baked baguette. A paper thin slice of truffle is placed on top of each serving. The aroma at this point is overpowering. And unforgettable.
Truffles Are Rare
Pierre concedes that truffle hunting is tougher than it looks. Fact is, there just aren’t that many truffles to find. Climate changes that interrupt the delicate balance of humidity, warmth, and moisture make the truffle harvest even more doubtful. Some years just don’t produce many truffles. Pierre and Yenna have been at it for five years and there are still days when there is not a truffle to be found. The uncertainty only magnifies the mystery and heightens the sense of adventure for foodies in search of these underground treasures.
Why the Secret?
So why the big dark secret in Switzerland? With so few truffles, the Swiss seem to be happy keeping their little secret. And their truffles. If you'd like to try to dig up a truffle yourself, you’ll need to come to Switzerland and join one of Alpenwild's truffle hunting adventures. A guided truffle hunt with a small group or a private tour is one of the most exciting new options on select Alpenwild adventures in Switzerland.
Truffle Hunting with Alpenwild
What’s a truffle hunt like? Accompanied by a truffle specialist and trained dog, you are guided through the woodlands of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland while learning about the history and methods of truffle hunting. After a short hike in the forest selected by the chasseur de truffe, you gather around the expert truffle-hunting dog and watch the culinary drama unfold. Once she starts digging, your guide takes over, reaches into the soil, and extracts the whole truffle from the ground. Spontaneous cheers erupt. Guests sniff the truffle-laced earth in amazement. After the hunt, guests stop in a chalet to prepare the fragrant fresh truffles, which are served with butter on a chunk of fresh baguette. The peak truffle hunting season in the Jura is September to November. Truffle hunting is a popular feature on our Alpenwild privately-arranged food tours.