Quick way to easy money, Truffle hunting in Languedoc

market stall, truffle fair Uzès
truffle market Uzès Languedoc

This year it was my pleasure to attend my first truffle market in the Languedoc. Mingling among serious culinary connoisseurs searching for the best truffle at prices of 700 euros per kg, it was plain to see that a special breed of person is attracted to these events. Many sporting leather hats, the type worn by local horsemen, it was down to serious money making as the stalls under the mediaeval arches of Uzes town centre buzzed, customers seeking out the best deal and the best quality dealer.

 Truffles at Uzes Truffles fête
black truffles of Gard Languedoc

Nearby a huge marquee sat ready to offer shelter from the cold wind during the truffle recipe competition – tasting and judging. Only four recipes were on offer – had there been a selection process, or was the task too much of a challenge, I wondered. After ensuring that my children were properly educated as to what a truffle looked like and how it grew, I found a sample under a microscope not far away under another archway. However, the demonstrations drew me away, the main attraction for children being the dogs. Dogs, you might ask? Yes, dogs are man’s best friend, especially when it comes to finding truffles. They are trained to pick up the strong scent of the truffle underground and to dig it up. I wonder if they get commission – I wonder if truffle dogs can be bought and how much they go for.

Live music at Uzes truffle fair
street music, Uzès truffle market, Gard

It was obvious that many aspire to having a very clever dog that can find these truffles. After all, why not cut out the middle man? Truffle hunters are known to be extremely secretive, they take their dogs out at different times of the day and never go to the same location in a regular pattern of movement that can be tracked. The father of a friend of ours won’t even tell his family where he finds his truffles. Among the crowd there were many small and large dogs, intent on proving their mettle. As we booked our place next to the barriers laid out in a circle in the market square, we wondered what lay ahead. The pile of sand was spread about 2 feet deep, and various branches of pine trees and gorse had been poked into this large sand dune.

truffle dog cavage uzes truffle market
truffle dog cavage Uzès market languedoc

Now, the setting of a market is somewhat false, our ‘animator’ explains. Normally a hunter and his dog are out on the garrigue hills totally alone with no distractions. In addition, a dog does not usually face the added difficulty of finding truffle scent through the fog of previous dogs’ scent or urine, generously laid down during their trial at the Fair. And the trial began, members of the public putting forward tentatively their dog to ‘have a go’. It soon became clear that finding truffles is a real talent that only superior, trained canines possess, a bit like the James Bond of the underworld. After a few miserable attempts from dogs who either hid their tails between their legs at the pressure of the public audience (poor thing, don’t traumatise him any more, were the words used by the ‘animator’), or had no idea in the slightest what they were there for, it fell to the more experienced species to be

truffle hunting pig uzes market languedoc
truffle hunting by pig, Uzès truffle fair

called forward. And what a treat! By now the uninitiated public, in full knowledge of the skill involved, was forced to murmur in admiration at the speed with which the trained dog found at least 5 truffles. Following this demonstration, a huge pig was brought in who picked up the remaining hidden samples without batting one furry eyelid. The pig, we were assured, never ate the truffles.

You, too, can earn a fortune by training your dog!

°°Your dog needs to be about three months old when you begin training it.
°°It can be any breed of dog.
°°You will need to dedicate 15 minutes a day to his training programme. You must always reward the dog for finding something.
°°The first stage is to throw a piece of cheese onto the bare ground and teach the dog to find it – and he will eat it.
°°The second stage is to hide the cheese in the ground and train the dog to find it.
°°The third, is to place a truffle under the piece of cheese and get the dog used to the scent of the truffle.
°°The fourth stage is to hide the truffles without including a piece of cheese. The dogs will locate the truffle, but then go and find the cheese instead and dig that up.
°°The final stage is to put cheese on top of the truffle but insist that the dog digs up the truffle. When they have mastered this, hide the truffle without the cheese and again, insist that they dig it up. Reward them, this time, with cheese from your pocket.

Once this has been accomplished, at the end of a month approximately, the dog can be taken out into the hills to test his skills.

Hopefully you will soon be reaping the rewards of all that hard work!

Helen Jennings

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