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Truffle Hunting in Italy

A popular and unusual flavor of chocolate offered by Tangle Chocolate is our Italian Truffle Salted 72% dark chocolate. I was inspired to make that flavor starting about a year ago for two reasons: it was just after the holiday season and I was craving savory delicacies to balance out all of the sweet ones I had been consuming, and I was intrigued by the 2020 documentary set in Italy called The Truffle Hunters. So, I sourced some salt with tiny pieces of Italian black truffles, and the flavor took off. 

Fast forward a year to the holiday season of 2022. I love visiting the sources of all of the ingredients of Tangle, and arranged to visit with my three daughters the truffle factory in Italy, Sabatino Tartufi, that makes the truffle salt we use. (Tartufi is the Italian word for truffles.) Well, the generous folks there not only told us all about what they do, but they also invited us to join one of their truffle hunters and his beloved dog on an actual truffle hunt! It was an opportunity of a lifetime. Here's what happened. 

An Italian truffle hunter and his dog.

Sophia and Sophia, our guides from Sabatino Tartufi, led us from the company headquarters to some nearby land which they called a truffle farm and I would call a hardwood forest with virtually no undergrowth. There, we met Algiero and his adorable dog Obi. Algiero is one of many truffle hunters throughout Italy that Sabatino Tartufi depends on. But if you know about truffle hunting, or if you’ve seen the 2020 documentary set in Italy, The Truffle Hunters, you know that Obi, not Algiero, was really the star of the show. Obi has been trained to sniff out the truffles that grow from spores near tree roots underground. The copse of trees we were in was oak, which is a typical place to find the black truffles we were looking for. The out-of-season white truffles, the subject of The Truffle Hunters, are more rare, are found in softwood forests near water sources, grow deeper in the ground, and are more fragile.

When Algiero whistled, Obi ran madly around in no discernible pattern, head down, until he found what he was looking for. Then he dug quickly with his front paws, picked up his prize in his mouth, and dashed to Algiero, where he happily dropped the truffle in exchange for a sausage. When Obi showed signs of being tired after about an hour, the hunt was over. Algiero is protective of Obi, clearly loves him, and wants him to be a successful hunter for years to come.

Not all dogs are suited for the work, even though their keen sense of smell would qualify any of them. Only about one in five will be able to get the hang of it, and far fewer than that will have the relationship with their owner that makes them a truly great truffle hunter. 

Sophia explained to us that we went to that particular location because of its convenience and because Sabatino Tartufi owns the land, but that in general, she has no idea where Algiero or their other suppliers look for truffles. The truffle hunters keep secret their hunting grounds. They can return to the same locations every couple of weeks to find more truffles that have matured—in fact, Algiero told us that if he returned to where we were on the evening of that same day, Obi might find more truffles because of the way truffles ripen.

The company is experimenting with "planting" truffle spores in hopes of farming truffles in a more conventional way, but to date, their truffles are all foraged.  

 Once a truffle is harvested, it needs to be shipped to its buyer or processed immediately while it is at its peak. 

Close-up of pasta with shaved Italian black truffles

We finished the day with a meal of pasta with tartufi, rich, earthy, nutty, and with a most unusual texture that is crunchy yet not crumbly, firm and dense yet not hard. This was the first time I had ever had enough quantity of truffle to experience its texture.

What an unforgettable experience. Now, when I put a sliver of Tangle’s truffle salted chocolate on my tongue, I’ll forever see Obi quivering with excitement as he waits to be taken off leash, dashing wildly about in the woods, and jumping all over Algiero in celebration!

Four women in the forest with a truffle-hunting dog





 

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AND THIS SATURDAY VISIT US AT COTTAGE ST OPEN STUDIOS IN EASTHAMPTON, 10-5 AND SUNDAY AT BLACK BIRCH VINEYARD IN HATFIELD, 12-5!

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