How Dogs Are Bringing Delicious Truffles To Your Plate
The black truffle is one of the most expensive edible mushrooms in the world. It can take any dish and elevate it with it’s earthy, musky, and pungent flavor profiles. Truffles, which classify as a fungus, typically grow underground among the root systems of hazelnut and oak trees. The Black Périgord Truffle is a species native to Southern Europe and until recently, has mostly been found in regions of France and Italy. They’re more expensive, scarce, and desirable than other truffles, and as a result, the orchards where they grow have always been heavily guarded.
Originally, truffle hunters would use pigs to help sniff out these precious gems because of their incredible sense of smell, but when this technique became too obvious, dogs were used as the less suspicious choice with noses that are equally as amazing.
Blackberry Farm, a luxury resort set in the Smoky Mountain Foothills of Tennessee, has taken it upon itself to be a pioneer in the black truffle business. Black Périgord Truffles are now being successfully cultivated in Eastern Tennessee and more specifically, Blackberry Farm is cultivating its very own truffle orchard.
What’s the secret weapon to finding these truffles? The Lagotto Romagnolo is the answer. This is a specific dog breed from Northern Italy that goes back hundreds of years. They are a small-to-medium-sized breed with thick curly fur and a joyful demeanor. They’re bread for searching things out and don’t get easily distracted by the scent of wild animals or other dogs. These “truffle dogs” are so rare that currently only 450 of them exist in the United States. Each female dog only has one litter of puppies every other year, so they’re extremely precious.
A man named Jim Sanford is responsible for training these highly skilled canine professionals. He’s been around animals for most of his life — Sanford spent 20 years training elephants all over the world and started Blackberry Farm’s horseback program, where he worked for seven years before getting involved with dogs. He is also responsible for tending to the sheep, pigs, chickens, quail, and ducks, an act of caring known as Animal Husbandry.
This carefully cultivated program — where all of the dogs were selected from two specific bloodlines through a breeder in Italy— is a result of dedication to a craft and if everything is done properly, Tennessee might continue to expand as the main truffle destination in the United States.