My phone rings in the middle of the night, or at least I thought so. No it was already 5h15 and my wake up call comes through my mobile phone. I am in a deep sleep, dreaming in a warm room nearby the richest regions in Italy for white truffles, a little secret. In 5 minutes I am out the door and by foot I walk up the main road of the small village.
I see a blue panda pass, it stops and Adriano a Tartufaia stops to pick me up. We wait for some other friends before we go the forest to search for truffles. This year truffles are hard to find, expensive and often mediocre. Recently I found some wonderful white but anyone who says, they have white from Alba are pulling your leg.
We are off in the dark, the morning settles into another nice day. We drive 7 kilometers of winding roads (in the dark) to a turn named Paradiso. This small road is laden with holes and water, as we bump along. At the end, we park and get ready for a walk. The ground is wet, the air brisk and the sky with some twilight light.
The start is easy and my friend explains this valley is wet and good for truffles. He points to large white popular, he pats the tree passionately with a sense of admiration. Here he says, “the ground is wet – we hope to find truffles” and we are off.
The dog, named Poopee is set to go and starts grunting like a pig as he sniffs on the orders of the Tartufaia. She runs sniffing the forest floor, scratching at trees and shrubs. This area is full of popular trees and this area is known to the locals.
We walk and walk and eventually nothing yet, we change directions and head up the hillside, as our host walks ahead guiding his dog. The dog is running with her nose down, up and down the hill, as he Tartufaia gives directions to the dog, stop, look, come, not there and over here. After almost 1 hour we change directions and head down a wet creek.
The area is wet and the mud everywhere. It is a muddy day to say the least, a grey mud and even areas with a kind of quick sand, and we avoid it on the instructions of a friend. He warns, “hah don’t walk there” signaling to sunken foot prints. The day is growing, we are not having any luck, so we change directions and pass some hunters looking for wild boar. They are smiling and the dogs are crossing paths.
We go down another bank and we are now in another direction. The dog is working hard, nose to the ground, he is going from tree to tree, large and small. Walking ten meters the Tartufaia points to a hole and says, “last night I took here a truffle”, and I don’t doubt it. I look at the hole, and see loose ground. He puts his stick shovel into the hole and removes ground for us to smell. It smells like “truffle aura”, the ground is filled with scents of white truffle.(amazing!!!)
We decide that it is just too wet and sticky to continue, so we turn and head back to the panda. En route, the dog gets distracted by wild animals and moves quickly to the forest and off the path. The Tartufaia yells, “Poopee come” in a large voice. The dog suddenly disappears and the owner becomes very upset. He shouts, Poopee come, and no dog. We see him and then she is gone like the wind.
Standing under the trees, he uses the most common Italian strong swear words, but it doesn’t help. The dog is gone and I am told that when this happens, it can be hours and even days. One time the dog was gone for two days.
The Tartufaia is visibly upset as we stand still and listen for his footsteps. Not a single noise in the area and the dog is long gone. He shouts, the dog’s name, hitting his stick in frustration, the dog has picked up a scent of an animal and took off.
We wait and listen and no dog, after 15 minutes we are instructed to return and bring some cigarettes, so he can wait for Poopee’s hopeful return. He has no cigarettes left and he needs to smoke. As we turn to go, there is a noise, a ruffling of the forest’s floor and in the distance we hear the dog. Without any hesitation, the owner stands in disbelief and the dogs re-appears.
Calmly the dog is wagging her tail and seems fine and relaxed. I am told, never hit the dog or the next time he will not work. We take him and head back to seek more truffles. This day no luck, except we run into a friend with a dog looking for his own truffles. These days truffles are scarce.