Some people travel for adventure, some for education, some for relaxation, and some for the food! Even if we are travelling for new experiences or just to get away from it all, most of us enjoy tasting the new-to-us local specialties and the delicious culinary offerings that we encounter on our travels. But guess what? There is such a category as culinary travel, a chance to stay in a new country (or region) with the specific goal of learning to cook (and eating) a local dish. A popular one of these culinary jaunts has you hunting the raw ingredient too. That ingredient is truffles.
Black truffles Image: Big Dodzy on UnSplash.
The inside of a black truffle Image: Amirali Mirhasheh on UnSplash.
What is a Truffle?
If you are not familiar with this food, it is nasty-looking, small (no bigger than a baseball, and often much smaller) fungus. It can be white, brown-black, or reddish depending where it is grown. Its taste and smell are distinctive and pungent. And it is wild, so no farm visits involved (though cultivated truffles are becoming available). Unlike mushrooms which are easy to spot, truffles grow underground in a symbiotic relationship with tree roots, specifically those of the oak, beech, poplar or hazel. Throw in specific moisture, soil PH, temperature, and mineral requirements, and truffles become a rare find. On a truffle vacation, you most likely will be holidaying in Europe, usually Italy, or perhaps France, though white truffles are found in Oregon.
Truffle shavings Image: Pixabay
Truffle shavings on warm pasta Image: Pixabay
How Do You Truffle Hunt?
With truffles being hard to find, dogs are the solution. If you are on a truffle holiday, you will most likely head out with a local expert and his/her specially trained, truffle-scenting dog into the hills and woods where truffles have been found previously. Dogs have great senses of smell and whereas one can try to spot likely truffle hiding places with the human eye, as is often done in Oregon, it is much more efficient to employ these olfactory masters. Pigs were once used for this task but unfortunately liked the taste of truffles too (which dogs do not) and disturbed the growing area with their digging. Carelessly disturbed ground may mean that truffles will not grow in this spot there again – or at least for a very long time. With truffles so rare and subsequently hard to find, it makes sense to preserve any growing environment at all costs.
Dogs must be trained to sniff out the hidden truffles Image: Bigstock
Dogs have replaced pigs in recent years Image: Andrea Cairone on UnSplash
What Else Can You Do On a Truffle Hunting Vacation?
Whether your hunt is successful or not, back at “home base”(which could be where you are staying during your holiday, a culinary school, or hotel/restaurant), you may participate in a cooking lesson with truffles and get to taste this delicacy with your resultant culinary masterpiece. Truffles can be cooked with certain dishes, infused in olive or sunflower oil, or used as a garnish on top of warm or hot foods. A little goes a long way which is good as truffles can be more valuable than gold, selling at thousands per pound. And once truffles are found and dug, their use as a culinary ingredient – the smell – immediately starts to fade. “Shelf life” is less than a week, and for best results, truffles probably should be used within 24 hours.
A successful hunt in Italy Image: Andrea Cairone on Unsplash
Booking Your Truffle Tour
Interested in a truffle culinary holiday? Contact your travel expert. Truffles are hunted at various times of the year depending on the locale, and tours range from an afternoon to several days. These journeys can consist of truffle hunts coupled with local winery and historical tours, to cooking classes and truffle-based cuisine – any one or all of these, and more. There is certain to be a choice that suits your budget and culinary aspirations.
Feature image of a truffle hunter and his dogs courtesy Andrea Cairone on Unsplash.