The Truffle Hunter

Fungi business.

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Nutty. Garlicky. Earthy. Funky. Pungent. Not all words used to describe truffles immediately bring to mind the concept of luxury, but they’re still considered a delicacy around the world. Harvested in the wild, truffles grow underground, often on the roots of oak and hazel trees. Because of their rarity, their distinct flavour profile, and the way they’re found (sniffed out with the fine-tuned nose of a truffle-hunting animal), these fungi are among the most expensive ingredients you can buy. But how does one become an internationally renowned purveyor of this highly sought-after ingredient?

Giuliano Martinelli of Giuliano Tartufi—visiting Vancouver for a special tasting event put on by Bosa Foods—has long been obsessed with the rigorous process of truffle hunting. While out for a walk with his grandfather as a young boy, he found his first truffle with the help of his grandfather’s dog—and kept it all to himself; he was hooked. As an adult, he wandered the woods of Perugia hunting for truffles before heading to his factory job, and eventually became a certified truffle merchant. Soon, he was participating in prestigious trade shows across Italy.

He now owns a company with more than 400 employees and no longer has time to hunt for every truffle he sells. But, Martinelli says, given the chance, he would go out hunting with his English setter anytime, anywhere.

As he shaves a black summer truffle over a plate of Pecorino Romano, I ask what makes for successful truffle hunting, and he explains the importance of a capable hound. “I’ve trained hundreds of dogs and only worked with two long-term,” he notes. It’s a painstaking process: first, a fresh truffle is placed an inch under the soil. Then he rubs another truffle between his fingers, directly under the dog’s snout. Once retrieved, the truffle is buried again—this time, a foot under the soil, then deeper, and deeper yet again.

He mentions “she” and “her” often when discussing his dogs. Can canine truffle hunters be male? “Oh no!” he says, raising his eyebrows in mock horror. “Like humans, only the females are intelligent, driven, and passionate enough.”

Truffle products from Italy’s Giuliano Tartufi are available in Vancouver through Bosa Foods.


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July 10, 2019