We were so excited when we added pigs to our homestead, and the children thoroughly enjoyed looking after the little piglets and adult pigs. One night my husband and I sat at the table eating a delicious pasta with truffle shavings when we had a brilliant idea.
Why not train one or two of our pigs to hunt for truffles? Looking for truffles would be a fantastic experience for our children and bring in good money for the homestead. We have a beautiful forest on our land, and the climate here is perfect for growing truffles.
We agreed that the best way to make this successful was to call a local truffle hunter for some advice and tips on getting started. She suggested we train the pigs, as using professional truffle pig trainers was quite expensive. She also mentioned that teaching your pigs was a straightforward process.
So how do you get started training your pig to find truffles? Start by training your pig to alert you when they smell a truffle. Get your pig familiar with the smell of the truffle, and then hide it. Make sure to accompany your pig and have snacks with you to give the pig once they find the truffle. Offer your pig treats and rewards to prevent them from eating the truffles they find. Finally, test the training by searching in a nearby forest.
What Are Truffles and How Do Pigs Smell Them?
A truffle, also fondly known as the “fairy apple or diamond of the kitchen,” is a very rare and expensive cousin to the mushroom. It’s a type of fungus that favors moist neutral, or alkaline soil. This fungus is found about 6 inches under the ground, near the root systems of trees. Common trees where truffles grow are Oak, Beech, Fir, Hazel, Pine, and Poplar.
Going truffle hunting in a forest, meadow, or the mountains after some good rainfall is a great way to start. A truffle pig or hog can pick up the scent of a truffle as deep as 25 feet underground. They are also able to smell a truffle from about 5 miles away.
Depending on which variety of truffles you are hunting, they are only available for a few months of the year. The popular black winter truffle is found during the winter and spring. The black summer truffle is found during the summer months. So you can hunt truffles all year, depending on the variety.
There are three types of truffles: the white variety, the black variety, and the burgundy variety. The most sought-after truffle in the world is the white Alba truffle, found between September and January, but only in Italy near the town of Alba.
A truffle is a very fussy fungus that requires perfect conditions to grow. Ensure that your homestead or land has truffles growing near the trees before you start training a truffle pig. Otherwise, the whole exercise will be pointless.
Four wild truffle varieties naturally grow in the US, especially in Oregon’s forests. Be sure you know which are edible before you spend months training and hunting for truffles you’ll have to throw away.
How the Scent Process Helps Pigs Find Truffles
Female pigs are used to find truffles because they have a great sense of smell and are natural foragers. They also can’t resist the musky scent of the pheromone released by these fragrant fungi. Unlike humans or dogs, trained truffle pigs can find the ripest truffles without fail.
Truffles contain a pheromone called androstenol. This hormone is also produced in a male pig’s testes and is secreted through their saliva when the male is trying to attract the female. The scent drives the female pig crazy with lust, which is why she will seek truffles since they smell like the male’s saliva.
Did you know: Truffles contain aphrodisiac properties for pigs and humans and are said to provide a higher sex drive for those who consume them.
The Value of Finding Truffles
Truffles are very popular in the culinary industry and are rated one of the most expensive food types in the world. Individuals and companies are willing to pay top dollar for a good-sized truffle.
They have a musky, earthy smell with a garlicky taste that you can’t really explain. Becoming a truffle hunter is undoubtedly a lucrative business and a great way to quickly make a lot of money. However, it takes great patience and time, as truffles are fussy about where they grow. Since truffles are seasonal, it’s not a stable source of income.
Here’s a quick look at some of the prices a truffle can fetch:
- A single truffle can cost about $3,800
- The largest Alba white truffle (66.66 ounces) ever found was sold for $61,000
- Winter black truffles sell for around $768 per pound
- Summer black truffles sell for about $361 per pound
- A white truffle costs a whopping $168 per ounce
Did you know: Truffles are more valuable than gold because it’s so rare and very high in demand. So time to get your truffle sniffing pig trained up!
5 Simple Steps to Train Your Pig to Find Truffles
Humans have a hard time finding these pungent, elusive wild fungi on their own. That’s why truffle hunters need the help of truffle pigs or dogs to sniff these “diamonds of the kitchen” out. Instead of digging in the soil blindly, they train female pigs to locate the truffles for their owners.
Here are five simple steps that you can use to train your pig to become a successful truffle hunter:
1. Start Training With Small Steps
When you start training your truffle pig, it’s essential to ensure that you take it slow. Pigs are brilliant animals, but training takes time, patience, and hard work, as with any other animal.
It would be best if you considered training a younger pig rather than a fully grown pig, as teaching an older animal a new skill is always challenging. Bear in mind that piglets should not be used as they have not developed a sex drive yet, and will not be attracted to the smell.
Start small by first hiding toys in a small environment with minimal distraction, so your pig can focus. You don’t want your pig to get over-excited or boisterous, so they cannot follow your instructions.
2. Get Your Pig Familiar with the Scent
Use a tiny bit of truffle oil (a synthetically made oil containing dithiapentane which gives truffles their distinct smell and flavor) and rub it on the toys so that your pig has a scent to follow.
Once your pig successfully locates the toy, reward them with a yummy treat. (Don’t reward them with a truffle, as they will eat the truffles when they find them, and you don’t want that).
Rub truffle oil on toys or cotton balls (which absorb the oil nicely) and hide them away again. Note how long it takes your pig to find the “truffle.”
Always ensure that you make a fuss of your pig when they find the hidden toy. This will encourage them to alert you that they have found the toy (instead of eating the truffle when the real hunting starts).
3. Hide a Truffle
Now that your pig can sniff out the hidden toys, it’s time to provide more of a challenge. Once again, put some truffle oil on a cotton wool ball and wrap it in aluminum foil (this will stop the pig from eating the cotton ball and make it a bit harder to sniff out).
Hide the “truffle ball” by digging a hole in the soil and burying it. Let your pig smell another cotton ball with the oil on, and signal them to find the “truffle.” Your pig will start sniffing at the ground until they pick up the scent of the truffle. Reward each successful find with a pig-appropriate treat.
4. Accompany Your Pig
It’s time to test your pigs’ new skills in the natural environment. Your pig may be overwhelmed by all the new smells at first. Guide your pig towards the hidden “truffle ball” with a well-fitting pig harness and leash, and follow your pig closely as they sniff the ground and try to locate the scent. Using a leash gives you control over where your pig goes and how they behave.
Once your pig has picked up the scent, they will start using their snout to dig into the soil and uproot the truffle ball. At this point, you can train your pig to alert you that they have found something by grunting or walking in a circle above the area.
It would be best if you got to the truffle before your pig devours it, as they find it very hard to resist the aroma and taste of this fungus. Unfortunately, some pigs will damage the truffle while digging in their excitement to reach the source of the sex hormone.
5. Offer Treats and Rewards
This step is the most essential part of training a truffle pig. As mentioned before, pigs (predominantly female pigs) find it very hard to resist the smell and taste of truffles. When you train your pig, have their favorite snacks with you.
Once your pig has signaled that they have found a truffle, reward them by verbally congratulating them and giving them their snack. Your pig must be keen to find the truffle for the snack reward but not so excited that they eat the truffle that they dig up.
This is also why you must follow your pig closely when hunting for truffles, as your pig might eat the truffle before you can get it away from them (and who can blame them).
Most truffle hunters won’t allow their pigs to dig. They let the pig sniff out the general area, and then the hunter takes over with a spade and a rake to carefully remove the truffle. By doing this, the truffle is not damaged or eaten.
Tools You Need to Get Started in Truffle Hunting
If you want to start truffle hunting, there are a few things you will need to get started, such as:
- A truffle pig or dog, as humans are unable to detect the smell of truffles deep under the ground
- A good pair of boots for walking through muddy soil and hiking
- A waterproof jacket to keep you dry if it rains (hunting for truffles after a rain storm is the best time)
- A rake to uproot the truffle once your pig or dog has detected it
- You will need energy, as you might be walking large distances through forests and meadows
- Have a good knowledge of the area’s land and soil types. This will help you pinpoint the best hunting locations for truffles
- Keep your eye on the weather patterns. The more rain there is, the more truffles there should be
- Some general knowledge of insects, such as the truffle fly, will help you locate where truffles are growing. Truffle flies lay their eggs above the fruiting fungus. Once the larvae hatch, they burrow into the soil in search of the truffles
- A small spade to dig up the truffle once your dog or pig has located it. Pigs will dig frantically at the ground to reach the truffle. You want to avoid this, as this can damage the truffle
- You will need a bag or basket to place the truffles in so that they don’t get damaged
- Be sure to follow any rules and regulations that apply to truffle hunting in the area you are exploring
- Carry plenty of snacks or rewards for your truffle pig or dog
Truffle Hunting Pigs FAQs
How much is a truffle pig worth?
A well-trained truffle hunting pig can sell for up to $10,000, but now that truffle hunters use normal domestic pigs, they can go for as little as $200. Younger pigs that are not fully trained go for even less.
A truffle pig with a proven track record sells for much more. However, truffle hunters have recently started using truffle dogs as they don’t find the pheromones in truffles appetizing and have no desire to eat them.
Are truffle pigs illegal?
Truffle pigs are legal in most countries. However, they are banned in Italy during May to protect the truffle ecosystem and environment. The truffle pigs cause too much damage to the fragile fungi systems in the soil. The pigs’ hooves cause damage to the roots of the trees, which means no more truffles will grow there.
What else can pigs be taught to scent hunt?
Pigs have an exceptional sense of smell and can learn to scent out drugs and blood, which is an excellent asset to humans in law enforcement. Some pigs can scent out the smell of popcorn and a variety of different foods.
Pigs are brilliant animals, and thanks to the local truffle hunters’ advice, we could follow these five easy steps to train our pigs to hunt truffles. My children enjoy putting on their boots and taking the pigs for a walk to hunt truffles in our nearby pine forest.
We did find that one of our pigs just couldn’t resist eating the truffles when she found them. This, unfortunately, is a common problem that truffle hunters experience with their truffle pigs. That’s why you should stay close to the pig when truffle hunting.
If you want to learn about caring for your amazing truffle pig, why not read our article on caring for your pet pig.
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