Very Good Dog Sniffs Out Record-Breaking Black Truffle
Tim Terry, the founder of Tasmanian Truffles, claims that more than 20 years ago, he found Australia's first black truffle in the soft soil of his farm in central Tasmania. And after two-plus decades of searching for and harvesting the coveted fruiting fungi, there are still some finds that manage to surprise even him.
Last week, he got one of those surprises, when a trainee truffle-sniffing dog named Poppy discovered the farm's biggest-ever black truffle, which weighed two pounds. Terry's daughter, Anna, was working with two of her dogs, when Poppy started to paw at the ground.
"Poppy just started digging and didn't stop, then I started to see how big it was," she told ABC News. "It just kept going and I started to get more and more excited. My dad was at the farm too, and I called out to him to come over, he was shocked to see it."
Poppy's big find was "definitely" a record for the Tasmanian Truffles farm, although Anna Terry acknowledged that some slightly larger truffles had been unearthed elsewhere in the country. "It's just the luck of the draw really," she said. "Truffles ideally need nice, loose, free draining soil and lots of room to grow, which is clearly what happened here, it got really big." (Australia's biggest black truffle weighed 1.5 kilograms and was discovered by another very good dog in Victoria in 2016.)
Terry estimated that the truffle would've been worth around AU$1,500 (US$1,000), but due to restaurant closures and other pandemic-related complications, the farm decided it would just have to eat that potential profit—literally. "Even a restaurant here couldn't have used all of it so I had to cut it up," she said. "It will probably all end up in my tummy."
Australia isn't the only place to find truffle-sniffling dogs: they are also used to dig out truffles in Europe, and they're being trained to find them in the Pacific Northwest, too—so scrap that image you have of pigs rooting around in the woods. "It's pretty much all dogs now," one dog-trainer told CBS News. "I mean besides, who wants to put a 300-pound pig in the back of your Subaru?"
The annual Oregon Truffle Festival includes a two-day competition to find the best four-legged truffle-hunter, and some breeds have proven to be especially adept at digging them out. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Lagotto Romagnolo, an adorably fluffy Italian breed, is "generally considered the world’s finest truffle dog."
With the right training, a lot of dogs can be trained to find that coveted ingredient (assuming that you live in a part of the country where wild truffles actually grow; otherwise, you and your dog will just be out for a nice hike).
"Terriers are easily distracted. Hounds often have another agenda, like rabbits," Lisa Brosnan, a trainer at the Truffle Underground dog school, told the organization. "Sighthounds do not ordinarily keep their nose on the ground. Short-snouted dogs have an obvious disadvantage, but still have a sense of smell much greater than ours. Essentially, all can be trained with patience and positive reinforcement."
Who knows? With enough training (and enough dog treats in your pockets), your pup could turn out to be the next Poppy.