CARNEROS, C.A. — There is a growing demand for truffle sniffing dogs, as chefs and foodies appetites’ for truffle mushrooms increases. The dogs are skilled at hunting out truffles, which are found in the ground of orchards and in the wild. With more landowners planting orchards in the hopes of harvesting truffles to be used at local restaurants, dogs are being trained to hunt for the prized fungi, using their acute sense of smell in locating the mushrooms. Robert Sinskey Vineyards, in Carneros, California, was the first Napa Valley winemaker to plant a truffle orchard five years ago and is hoping to be the first California grower to harvest the earthy delicacies. Truffles take several years to ripen on tree roots under the ground. Sinskey is hoping to harvest truffles by next year.
Alana McGee, co-founder of the Truffle Dog Company, is training dogs on how to find truffles in orchards or in the wild. Pigs have traditionally been used in Europe for years to hunt for truffles, but over the last century dogs have become the preferred choice as they are easier to handle, gentler on the environment and are less likely to eat the delicacies.
“There is a huge demand for truffle dogs right now,” said McGee. Truffles are a highly profitable crop, known as the “diamond of the kitchen,” most coming from Europe or Australia, costing $800 to $1,200 a pound. European black truffles are the most prized ones, known for their powerful taste and aroma, with few in North America successfully harvesting them.
The Truffle Dog Company is working with canines and their owners, training them on how to pinpoint the ripe truffles, in a gentle way that preserves the optimum quality of the truffle. Dogs have amazing olfactory senses, and enjoy scent games, so truffle hunting is a natural way to work and play with the dogs. Almost any dog can be trained to seek out the fungi. “Truffle-hunting is right up their alley. It’s fun for the dogs. They get rewarded for using their noses, which is how they see the world,” McGee said.