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Farming truffles
It takes the nose of a female pig or a specially trained dog to sniff out a truffle, which is why this round, warty, and irregularly shaped subterranean fungus is so highly prized – and priced. Growing underground and being detectable only by their aroma, truffles are among the world’s most expensive natural foods.

Truffles give off an aroma similar to the pheromones that boars use to attract sows during the mating season, which is why in France and Italy, where most truffles are collected, sows were traditionally used to locate the fungi. However, the problem with using a female pig is that the animal is very likely to eat a truffle as soon as she finds it! While farmers using pigs to locate truffles will employ a form of restraint to stop the pig devouring the truffle once it’s been located, most truffle hunters nowadays prefer to use trained dogs to sniff out their fungi, as not only will dogs be content to eat anything other than a truffle, they’re also much easier to retrain than a 200-pound snorting sow!

Another way to locate truffles is to look for the Suillia fly. This insect likes to lay its eggs above truffles, so if it can be spotted, it’s a sure bet that there’s a truffle underground very close by.

However, because the only true indication that a truffle is ready for harvesting is a strong aroma, the use of animals in harvesting truffles has proved to be the best method of ensuring the fungi are picked when they’re at their most flavorsome.

While the truffle’s scent is the key to locating the fungus during harvest season, which for most truffles runs from September to May, ironically it’s this aroma that’s integral to its survival. As a truffle grows entirely underground with its spore-bearing part being fully enclosed, the fungus depends on woodland animals, such as squirrels and chipmunks, to help it propagate by transferring its spores above ground. The rodents do this by eating the truffle (having been attracted by its scent), and then spreading the spores in their droppings.

In North America, truffle hunters use three main indicators to locate truffles: warm and moist soil (most truffles are found between 10 and 14 days after a heavy rain); trees that partner truffle-forming fungi such as pine, fir, oak, and hazel; and evidence of pits dug by rodents in their own search for truffles.

And while many attempts to grow truffles artificially or from seed have been made, to date none has produced any significant results, which is yet another reason why the truffle continues to be held in such high regard and gourmets around the world pay top dollar for it.

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