THE TRUFFLE HUNTER
They appear in many different colours: truffles. But how do you start looking for these valuable mushrooms and what else should you know? We met a truffle hunter who knows his stuff.
To start with, it would be great if you could introduce one or two things about yourself and your work:
Precious Truffle is a team from Thessaloniki, Greece. We are active on the market and trade in seasonal truffles as well as wild and cultivated mushrooms. We also offer truffle dog training, assessments of farm suitability, plantations and advice on cultivation. Furthermore, we invest in existing plantations and help to identify subterranean fungi.
Each member of the team has a different role. For example, I specialise in truffle hunting, truffle dealing and the study of truffle habitats.
What made you decide to become a truffle hunter?
It all started ten years ago when my friends and I took part in our first excursion to search for mushrooms and go hunting. I was fascinated by the idea of going on a long journey through the forest. It was constantly possible to see new mushrooms. They were also edible, which was why we organised a feast with the mushrooms that same night.
So a few years ago I bought my first truffle dog, Nora, and began hunting. I started by concentrating on searching for truffle habitats. Not many months after the first hunt, I joined forces with a forester named Vasilis Christopoulos. He already had ten years’ experience with truffles, truffle plantations and truffle dog training. And so, with “Precious Truffle” we started working together as truffle hunters.
THE TRUFFLE HUNTER TEAM
How did you become qualified?
A lot comes from reading or searching online. In addition, we use new insights from geological and forest maps and thousands of hours of forest walks with our truffle dogs. Everything is scattered across the net and forests, we just need to find the right information and the right places. A truffle hunter is always up to date.
The best-known ways to hunt truffles are with the help of dogs and pigs. Who assists you as a truffle hunter?
In the urban area where I lived I insisted on having a dog as my truffle assistant. It would be really difficult to keep a pig in my apartment. Ultimately, I realised that you can develop a unique relationship with a dog, which can be advantageous for the hunter when searching for truffles.
In which regions do you hunt them?
Olympus, Serres, Kavala, Drama. They are places near my city, Thessaloniki. We pick different regions depending on the time of year, humidity, rain, altitude and other decisive factors. We go truffle hunting 2-3 times each week, so we’re used to travelling long distances. Truffle hunting is no walk in the park.
How have truffle prices changed over the last 10 years? And what will you be developing in the next 10 years?
That’s a really difficult question. I believe the climate is changing rapidly and all I can say is that we may see a temperature rise of 2 °C, and that means less rainfall and more droughts in Europe, especially in Northern Europe. Over the years we are seeing that regions are giving us ever fewer truffles, which is why we need to conduct new studies on searching for new truffle habitats.
As for the price of truffles, with the exception of the precious white truffle (Tuber magnatum) I haven’t seen any significant price changes. That is of course a shame for us truffle hunters. More truffles means better prices. For example, I spent a few years searching for white truffles that were sold for €1500 per kilo and have now risen – because of the major drought in Italy in 2017 – to €5500 per kilo.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW AS A TRUFFLE HUNTER
Which countries consume the most truffles?
That’s an easy question. Italy consumes more Tuber magnatum than other countries, which is due to the fact that there are a lot of white truffle habitats there. The Spanish consume Tuber melanosporum, while France likes Tuber melanosporum and Tuber mesentericum. But all other types are popular too, of course.
How are truffles used in Asia?
I really don’t have a clear idea of this. The only thing I see is that some of the five-star restaurants there buy truffles from Europe and use them in a kind of truffle that has a lower value in its by-products than the European ones. It is a cheaper type of black truffle, the Tuber Himalayensis from China, which flooded the market.
What are the most important truffle regions in Europe and what are they like in Greece?
Truffle hunters can find truffles all across the Mediterranean region, from Spain to Greece. Each location has its own range of types. If you know the right time during the season, you can find all types of truffle. As for what you could call the ‘main truffle regions’, there are many famous regions in the Mediterranean area, where you can hunt black and white truffles, Burgundy truffle (France), Périgord truffle (France), Bagnoli truffle (Italy), Alba truffle (Italy) and Istrian truffle (Croatia). The last two are both the biggest destinations for hunting white truffles.
How many types of truffles are there and how do they differ in taste?
There are around 200 types of truffles, but only seven of them are of any culinary value. Most have the same basic flavour, but each type has its own distinct aroma that makes it so special. Truffle hunters are better able to distinguish between them.
TRUFFLE HUNTER – A PROFESSION WITH A FUTURE
Which truffles are the most flavoursome and the most expensive?
We have two winners here! They are the precious white truffles, which can fetch €7000 per kilo and Tuber melanosporum, which costs €1100 per kilo. Tuber magnatum, when fully ripened, releases an intense aroma of intense flowers, spices, musk, cheese, with a hint of butter and honey. Melanosporum truffles give off a fragrance reminiscent of undergrowth, strawberries, wet earth or dried fruits with a hint of cocoa.
What kind do you like best?
To be honest, I personally like Tuber mesentericum. I can’t say that my favourite truffle is the most expensive one, but for me it’s the sweetest and most aromatic and I really like the fact that it has a strong note of bitter almond. Having found out which dishes I can really enjoy this truffle in, I will start to experiment with Tuber borchii and Tuber Brumale Fo. All of them have a very interesting aroma.
Can you tell us how to hunt and find our own truffles?
Have a large truffle dog, strong feet and love walking in the forest. If you want to speed things up a bit, start studying geological maps. That’s how I began. It’s like a treasure hunt.
Is there a lot of competition between truffle hunters?
Yes, all truffle hunters try to keep their distance from each other. You can’t just share a secret truffle spot with other truffle hunters. Otherwise everyone would go there the next day! Yes, I have a few friends who are truffle hunters, but we never talk about places we have visited. If you lose a truffle habitat, you might lose it forever.
Can you make a living with this work?
Yes and no. It depends on the quantities I find and the types of truffles I hunt. You can’t make a living from this job if you find small quantities and you definitely can’t make a living by hunting black summer truffles. You can make a good start if you hunt Tuber magnatum, for example.
Have you ever thought about changing jobs?
I’ve been in the truffle business for a few years now and have never considered giving up. Hunting truffles is a very difficult and challenging job, but it is what I plan on doing for the next few years and I really love it.
It’s your daily business: Do you still enjoy truffles?
Yes, of course! Since I keep experimenting by using truffles in different ways in new dishes, I have found a fantastic combination and still have a lot of new ideas.
Historically speaking, did truffles have a different use in the kitchen than they do today?
From the ancient Sumerians to the present day, their use has always been the same! They are a great addition to our dishes which can transform a simple meal into an aromatic extravaganza, and these things have been popular since ancient times.
Do you hunt any other mushrooms?
Every October we have a large selection of mushrooms to hunt. We have Caesar’s mushrooms, boletus, horns of plenty, chanterelles, Macrolepiota, Lactarius and many more that are popular with restaurants! Every period has its own mushrooms.
Do you sell the truffles via dealers or directly?
It depends whether we have gathered a large amount. If we have large quantities, then of course we pass them on to dealers, and if we have smaller amounts then we sell them ourselves or via eBay.
Click here to read more about truffle hunters.