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Mit Hunden auf Trüffelsuche

Trüffel gelten als Delikatesse. Und wer sie findet, als ein wahrer Glückspilz. Dem Glück lässt sich auf die Sprünge helfen, wenn man mit Federico und seinen Hunden auf Trüffelsuche in den Wäldern nahe Rom unterwegs ist. Wer die ewige Stadt besucht, sollte sich dieses Abenteuer nicht entgehen lassen. (also in english version)

Truffle Dogtrail in the woods of Rome

Even before I was there for the first time, I knew: Rome is my city! Its breathtaking history and restrained, noble splendour, the small cafés and restaurants away from the tourist hotspots, the language, the food …! After the planned short trip with my daughter in the week after Easter was cancelled due to corona, we made up for it now, in September. Culture and art were not on the programm, we just wanted to let ourselves drift. And discover Rome’s unknown sides. That is how we came across Federico Spadoni from Discovering Truffles http://www.discoveringtruffles.com during our research.

Pines & oaks instead of Pantheon & Vatican

Those who know me know that I love nature. And dogs! And both far more than truffles. Without me having guessed it, Federico Spadoni, our host for today, is probably feeling the same way … The 31-year-old lives near Rome and has five dogs, all of which are trained to search for truffles. He promises: „For six hours he will take us on a journey of discovery through the woods of Rome, his four-legged friends will find truffles that we will later prepare at his home. Sounds fantastic!

We travel by train for three quarters of an hour to Cesano. Federico is already waiting for us and with him his most important collaborators: Rex, an elegant Grifo Nero Valnerino, Argo, a Lagotto Romagnolo and his daughter Arya, an enchanting mix with a cocker spaniel bitch. And then it’s off into the woods.

Where truffles thrive, no grass grows

As soon as the three four-legged friends are let off the leash, they dash off, the nose always on the ground. „Always follow the dogs, they give the direction“, says Federico. While they are searching, their master introduces us to the secrets of truffles. „The tubers usually grow underground near tree roots, mostly deciduous trees. Once the truffle has entered into a symbiosis with its host plants, a vegetation-damaged zone, also called ’scorched earth‘ is created. We are in such a place and it does not take long before Argo runs to Federico and spits a truffle in his hand. Shortly afterwards, Rex also appears, chewing on his prey and only allowing half a truffle to roll into Federico’s outstretched hand. Whereupon Federico shakes his head, but mildly rebukes him.

A work that fulfills both: master and dog

„Nine varieties grow around Rome“, Federico enumerates: the black summer truffle, which we are now on the trail of, the white albatross truffle, the highly aromatic winter truffle and the small white March truffle (called Bianchetto or Marzuolo in Italy), for which Federico himself has developed a weakness. „They preferably grow under pine trees“, he knows. And also that he finds the large white truffles in rather humid areas and the black winter truffles rather in the mountains.

Federico learned his trade from an old farmer. However, Federico’s whole passion is not so much the search for truffles but rather his dogs, which he trains himself. „To work with them and see them happy is the best thing that can happen to me,“ he says and his shining eyes leave no doubt that he needs the outdoors and the silent agreement with his four-legged friends like air to breathe.

Truffles taste good even for dogs

Slowly the bag in which Federico makes the truffles disappear fills. But the heat is getting to the dogs. Federico takes a foldable bowl out of his rucksack and fills it with water. We’ve only been on the road for half an hour and already the three dog muzzles are rushing into the cool water. Then we continue into an area overgrown with pine trees. Here, too, the „burnt earth“ can be seen in some places. The dogs run off and Rex gets one or the other precious specimen. But Argo lives up to his reputation as the champion of the regional „Truffle Race“. He retrieves the excavated tubers with great regularity – and reliability. If the soil is too dry, which will be the case almost everywhere in the forests of Rome in the hot summer of 2020, Federico will help a little with his truffle shovel to make it easier for the dogs to dig them up. But little Arya, just one year old, is obviously too tiring to dig for truffles. She stretches out all fours, all nose-length, to proudly deliver a find at the end of our search.

Much natur, little yield

We spend a good three hours roaming through pine and oak woods with Federico and his dogs. Although the dogs are constantly on the move, our yield is only about 60 grams. „Truffles need the rain from three months ago,“ says Federico. „But June was extremely dry and so truffles are also in short supply. In view of the yield, it becomes clear why the tubers are traded as the most expensive edible mushrooms in the world: one kilogram of white truffles costs up to 9,000 euros!

We should still be able to enjoy the black summer truffle. At Federico’s home near Cesano we also meet the other two of his five dogs: Arya’s mother Sally, a gentle and completely cuddly cocker spaniel bitch, and Arya’s black sister Brienne. After the welcoming ceremony, the eager four-legged staff settle down in the garden.

Truffled fried egg ist the crowning glory

Inside, Federico’s father Santino and his girlfriend Giulia have prepared a three-course menu for us. But first of all the truffles have to be cleaned very, very thoroughly with a brush, then it’s time to enjoy – all with a thick layer of finely grated truffles: bruschetta, real (!) Italian mozzarella, homemade ravioli and last but not least as the crowning touch – a richly truffled fried egg.

So much experience of nature, so warm hospitality, so nice people, so wonderful, gentle dogs – I was certainly not the last time I was out and about in the woods of Rome.

From pigs to dogs

Since the 15th century the digging of truffles was the task of pigs. More precisely, of sows. Attracted by the smell, which resembles the sex hormones secreted by male pigs, they tracked down truffles to a depth of a good two metres. The farmers who kept them on a leash, however, could hardly prevent the pigs from eating the delicacies. For this purpose, an iron ring was placed around their muzzle. As the pigs severely damaged the tree roots when digging, this practice is now prohibited in Italy. The truffle hunters here prefer to rely on their dogs, which are able to feel and fetch.

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