Truffle Hunting

We spent the evening at a truffle farm near Lourmarin. Yohann Pepin, above, inherited a farm from his grandparents and has built a truffle business alongside grapevines, beehives, and more. He was our guide for the night.

Truffles used to be everywhere. Much of France was open fields for farming and grazing, and around the perimeters of these fields oaks and hazelnut trees would support truffles growing on their roots. The truffles and trees have a symbiotic relationship — truffles extract nutrients from the soil for the trees, and in return the trees give sugar to the truffles. Wild pigs, attracted to the scent that mimics the pheromones of a female pig in heat, would dig up and eat the truffles, spreading the spores.

Today, most of the world’s truffles are farmed, and most are grown on the roots of oak trees. Farmers buy oak saplings already inoculated with truffle spores, tens them for 5-10 years, and then look for the signs of truffle growth. It’s a long game.

Finding the truffles is the easy part. Where truffles are underfoot, the grass dies. Farmers focus on these areas, and trained dogs sniff out the scent in return for treats. Needless to say, the dogs were the stars of the show. Meet Eclair and Mirabelle:

When the dogs smell truffle, they start digging furiously. Eclair was smart enough to pull the truffles out with her mouth and place them, intact, in her owner’s hand. The reward: A piece of pungent cheese for a happy dog.

This will end up being one of the highlights of the trip. We ended the night tasting truffles as the sun set, making conversation with the other members of our group and goofing around.

Andrew Bartholomew