If your dog ever looks at you like he or she is trying to tell you something really, really important, you might want to give it some attention. While the chances are good that they just want whatever it is you're eating, they may actually be letting you know that they're able to point you to one of the most sought after hard-to-find foods in the world: truffle mushrooms.
Truffles are hypogean mushrooms, which is just a fancy way of saying that they grow underground, unlike most mushrooms. We all know how much dogs love to dig, so training them to hunt these fragrant subterranean delicacies was just a matter of time. Throughout Europe, the truffle mushroom capital of the world, dogs have been invaluable in detection for as long as we've savored the delicate fungi.
Now stateside, truffle-dog handlers in California, Oregon and Tennessee claim to be able teach your pooch to find the mother load for mushroom foragers. At the Oregon Truffle Festival, one dog found 70 truffles! Certain breeds are better suited for truffle mushroom hunting. These include golden and Labrador retrievers, German and Dutch shepherds, Belgian Malinois and other hunting breeds; but it really comes down to the dog. You can have your dog trained for the hunt, rent or adopt a truffle terrier from one of several truffle dog-training facilities.
Like other mushrooms, truffles are also a rich source of nutritional benefits including vitamin D, vitamin C, vegetable protein, iron, zinc, fiber and amino acids. Amazingly fragrant, truffle mushrooms are undeniably powerful flavor enhancers. They are treasured for their exotic, sensual aroma and powerful flavor.
Because truffle mushrooms fetch such a pretty penny—market value can be thousands of dollars per pound—hunting is immensely competitive. Fierce foraging in Europe has led to rivals poisoning competitor 's dogs. For real. Considering we're far more civilized here in America, taking a truffle dog out on the trail should not only be safer, but also very lucrative.
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Photo: Jill Ettinger