Truffle Pigs: The Unsung Heroes of the Culinary World

Truffle hunting is a highly regulated and complicated process; no matter how good your sense of smell is, you likely won’t find truffles on your own. So how does one successfully find truffles?

truffle pigs searching truffle

Truffle hogs, or truffle-hunting pigs, have been used to accompany truffle hunters throughout the few spots where these expensive and rare mushrooms are known to grow. Their excellent sense of smell and intelligence has made them ideal truffle hunting partners for centuries.

Even though truffle hogs detect truffles at an excellent rate, the practice of using pigs to find truffles isn’t practiced the way it once was.

The Skill Of A Truffle Hog

A pig’s sense of smell has made them natural underground foragers. Truffles have a signature scent that has musky properties and is very similar to the sex hormones found in the saliva of pigs. Pigs naturally seek out this smell, and so when sniffing for truffles, they can locate them with relative ease even if they’re in the ground.

As a pig is sniffing the earth in search of that special aroma, it will start to dig once they’ve located the source of that smell. They will efficiently stuff their feet underground and move around the dirt until the truffle is unearthed. However, if the pig isn’t trained as a truffle-hunting hog, they are likely to eat that truffle.

What Type Of Pig Can Be Used For Finding Truffles?

It seems that finding the perfect truffle-hunting hog really comes down to gender. The female pig tends to be chosen over male pigs. That said, the male pig is still an efficient truffle hog. In terms of breed, there is no specific breed that has been found to be better or worse at finding truffles.

Female pigs have been found to be more efficient at truffle hunting because of the specific scent truffles emit. The hormone in truffles is known as androstenol, which is also found in the saliva glands of male pigs and boars.

Why Do Pigs Like To Find Truffles?

When truffle pigs are sniffing around in a contained environment, they will find themselves drawn to the unique scent of a truffle. The scent mimics the sex hormone found in pigs.

When you mix this factor of a natural hunt with a respectful relationship between said pig and their human companion, they can find the experience very enjoyable and rewarding.

How Are Truffle Pigs Trained To Hunt Truffles?

Since pigs like to dig and their sense of smell can detect things growing underground, training pigs to hunt truffles is a fairly easygoing process. The hardest part of the process is making sure the pigs don’t eat the truffles.

Truffle pigs are trained to recognize the smell of an object and are then directed to go sniffing for said object. When they find the object, they are trained to alert their trainer to the location of the object. As the pig gets better at this process, they are trained to recognize the smell of truffles and are taken through the same process.

As pigs get treats and praise for their success, they learn pretty quickly how the truffle hunt should operate. This also helps deter them from eating the truffles they find since they know they’ll be fed a delicious treat afterward.

What Is The Intelligence Level Of A Pig?

Pigs are recognized as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They undertake training with relative ease, and they can be incredibly responsive to humans. Interestingly enough, some studies show that pigs are often as smart or smarter than the average dog or toddler.

Pigs are able to learn a variety of skills and are able to form tremendous bonds with humans. Furthermore, they are able to show a wide range of emotions which isn’t common for many other types of animals.

How Many Truffles Can Pigs Find?

Hunting truffles is a combination of luck and skill. No matter how adept a truffle hunting pig is, it’s possible they may leave a hunt without any truffles, or may even find just one truffle.

Are Pigs Still Used To Find Truffles?

Truffle hogs are still bred and used in some regions where truffles grow underground. Despite how adept they are at finding these rare mushrooms, there are some issues associated with a pig’s natural hunting prowess and the continuity of this delicate species of mushroom.

Why Pigs Were Banned From Finding Truffles In Italy Back In 1985

Italy, one of the biggest natural producers of truffles, decided to outlaw using truffle hunting pigs in 1985. It was found that, despite best efforts, pigs were causing too much damage to the natural supply of these mushrooms. Their vigorous digging was also found to be causing environmental damage.

Truffles rely on being able to spore their fruiting bodies underground in order to breed. If pigs are digging up unripe truffles, this process is disturbed. Their digging can cause tearing in the mycelium of the mushroom, which works with the fruiting bodies to help truffles grow. Even the most well-intentioned and trained truffle pig can’t help but potentially cause harm to this process.

Furthermore, since truffle pigs aren’t able to differentiate the scent of unripe and ripe truffles, they can end up digging up truffles that aren’t quite ready to be unearthed yet.

Why Is Pig Truffle Hunting Illegal?

Truffle hunting with pigs is illegal in some areas of the world because of the potential risk to vulnerable populations of these mushrooms. Since it’s so common for pigs to eat truffles, especially if they aren’t well trained, it impacts the sporing process of truffles that is needed to ensure they continue to grow.

Truffle hunting is a very strictly regulated practice, especially in parts of Europe. One cannot simply leash a pig and go out into a forest hoping to find truffles. Just like most forms of hunting, there are seasons when truffle hunting is permitted and there are permits and permissions that are needed.

Do Pigs Still Hunt Truffles?

Regions of the pacific northwest in the United States, China, and some parts of Europe still sometimes use a truffle hog to help them find truffles. The practice isn’t as common as it once was. Ultimately, the regulations of the region will determine whether truffle hunting pigs can still be used.

How Much Do Truffles Cost?

Truffles are very expensive, rare treats that are only found in a few regions of the world. Their flavor can enrich a variety of food. Since they are so rare, some truffles can cost hundreds of dollars, with more rare truffles going for a thousand dollars.

Black Truffles vs. White Truffles

There are multiple types of truffles, each having its own distinct flavor and aroma. A truffle’s color often determines how it’s used, and will often determine its price.

The black truffle tends to be a little less expensive than white truffles as they are more plentiful. The Alba white truffle is the most sought truffle and it can only be found in Italy. Other types of white truffles are also especially rare and as such, they can go for hundreds of dollars per pound.

How Much Do Truffle Pigs Cost?

A truffle pig can be a costly companion depending on their success rate and training level. Typically, a truffle hunting pig will cost a couple of thousand dollars on the low end and can go for several thousand dollars on the high end.

Are Pigs The Only Animals That Can Find Truffles?

Truffle-hunting dogs have replaced many truffle-hunting pigs in their roles. Truffle dogs aren’t interested in eating truffles, and they don’t seek out unripe truffles either. Not all dogs can be trained as efficient truffle hunters, but their strong sense of smell and great eyesight makes them very easy to train for this practice.

Where Can I Find Truffles Without A Dog Or Pig?

The hunt for truffles becomes much more complicated without a dog or a pig, but it can still be done. There are some signs one can look out for, such as darkened soil around host trees, that indicate there may be a truffle growing under that spot.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that the truffle-hunting pig has played a pivotal role in the truffle trade. They have made excellent truffle hunters for many, but truffle hounds are increasingly becoming the companion of the modern truffle hunter.

Andrea Arthur