One of the most popular curiosities related to the world of truffles is definitely linked to his research. Yet, among anecdotes, secrets, tricks and stories that often mix myth with reality, one topic holds out among the questions that are asked to trufflers: are pigs still used to go and look for the precious hypogeal mushroom?
A question apparently so bizarre whose answer goes to branch in the history and culture of truffles and Europe.
Why were pigs used for truffle hunting?
Let’s start by saying that pigs were used for truffle hunting. However, what many do not know is that their employment was banned not so long ago. In Italy the ban on hunting truffles with pigs dates back to 1985.
But as much as it may be to imagine the quarrymen in the woods with a piglet on a leash, you have to know that they are actually real wonders. Greedy of truffles, their nose is so developed that pigs can find truffles up to three meters deep. Moreover, as if that were not enough, the perfume of the hypogean fungus is very similar to that of the male pig’s sex hormones, thus making it irresistible to sows. To complete this trio of unique characteristics, we must not forget that the pig is an animal that instinctively looks for food digging in the ground, a factor that, together with the others already mentioned, make it easy to guess why they were so used.
The first documented use
The first documented evidence about the use of the pig in the search for truffles dates back to the fifteenth century but many are convinced that they were used since the time of the Roman Empire.
According to official documents and sources, we are certain that in France, in the ‘600, the black truffle was searched with pigs. In the same period also in Italy, more precisely in Piedmont, white truffles were sought using pigs. They are famous the “bar jokes” organized at the court of Savoy, events attended by nobles to satisfy their enjoyment.
It seems that it was on the occasion of these events that they began to prefer the use of dogs, considered much more elegant and suitable for a context with nobles.
As time went on, quarrymen began to prefer dogs for a number of reasons. Among them, an important element was the possibility of training a more “faithful” and, in a sense, “obedient” companion unlike the pig. Going into the merits, it is precisely the “ungovernability” of the pigs to have brought a progressive disuse, since the pigs are so greedy of truffles that they ended up eating them, They dug with so much heat to destroy the ground and everything they found around and often reached a size so large that transporting them became a real problem, especially driving them away from truffles to avoid eating them.
For these reasons, in 1985 it was decided to promote a search for “sustainable” truffles, which does not ruin the soils and plants with which the latter live in symbiosis by prohibiting the use of truffle pigs throughout Italy. After centuries of honorable service, it was time for them to retire.