One of the must-do things if you’re in Piedmont, Italy, is to go truffle hunting! A truffle hunting tour usually starts from Alba or Asti or they are combined with a wine tasting in the Barolo or Monferrato area.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the season for summer or winter black truffles or if you’re going on a search for Piedmont white truffles: go into the forest with a truffle hunter and his dog, and (try to) find some truffles!
During our visit to Piedmont, we booked a truffle hunting tour on the 1st of October. According to the official calendar, the white truffle season has just started but I didn’t know if we’d be able to find any truffles at all!
I paid for the tour and experience in full myself. I was not paid or compensated and all opinions are my own. As I had such an amazing experience, I’d love to share with you what truffle hunting is like and what you can expect.
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Continue reading to learn about truffle hunting tours from Alba, my experience finding some truffles, and how you can arrange it yourself!
Piedmont White Truffle Hunting Tour from Alba Italy
What are truffles?
Truffles are part of the subterranean ascomycete fungus. This means they grow underground and are some sort of sack-like member of the fungi family. We know many fungi, like mushrooms.
Truffles grow in nature, underground, near the roots of oak trees and wild hazelnut trees and bushes. The truffles you’ll find in Piedmont are pure natural, they cannot be grown on farms or cultivated to enhance production.
A truffle hunter goes out with their dog, a hunting breed known for its excellent sense of smell. They can smell a truffle in the ground as deep as 1 meter! Once the dog alerts the hunter he might have found something, they both will carefully excavate the area.
Once the truffle hunter has confirmed a truffle should be there, they’ll scrape away the dirt. This must be done carefully, not to damage the truffle. But also not to damage the root system of the trees and the ground.
Truffles need water to grow and can take up to 30 to 60 days to form themselves. The spores of the fungi will spread. As truffles are a delicacy among forest animals, the spores are also spread this way.
If a truffle doesn’t get found by humans, it will be eaten by animals or desiccate and dissolve.
The truffles in Piedmont can be found for 9 months of the year and they are divided into 3 categories. The black truffles, that you can find in summer and winter, and the Piedmont white truffles.
Summer black truffles
Summer black truffles are, as the name indicated, black. They have dark, bark-like skin and they don’t smell. Only when you open them up, you recognize the scent of truffles.
They can be found from June up until the end of September or the beginning of October.
Once you’ve peeled them, you can eat them on cold dishes or on hot dishes. Truffles found in warmer weather can stay good for up to 2-3 days, so they must be eaten fresh and as soon as possible.
Winter black truffles
From January until March-April, you can find the winter black truffle. It looks a lot like the summer black truffle. They grow in colder conditions and can be kept, depending on the temperature of the soil, for up to 1 week.
A winter black truffle must be heated in order to be able to be consumed.
Truffles are measured by 100 grams (not kilos). Depending on the season and the supply and demand, a black truffle (summer or winter) can bring in around 2-4 euro for 10 grams of truffle.
Piedmont white truffles
White truffles are a real delicacy and are called the diamonds of the kitchen. The white truffle season is from 30 September up until January. But as nature changes, and it cannot read a calendar, these days are not set in stone.
We did the truffle hunting tour on October 1st and we actually found 2 black truffles and also a white truffle. Lucky us!
The white truffle is not bright white, but a more beige, yellowish color. Depending on the soil, it will be a little darker. It doesn’t have skin, like the black truffle.
It smells incredible. The smell is strong and rich and you can smell the soil around the truffle and still recognize the smell of truffles.
As the season of the white truffles coincides with the Christmas season, they are a real treat. They are excellent gifts and really spruce up your Christmas dinner too! No wonder they are in such high demand come end December!
Because of their rareness, the demand for the season, and their tastiness, white truffles can bring in a lot more money! 200 euros for 100 grams is a good find!
What is truffle hunting like?
Now that I explained a tiny bit about truffles, let’s talk about the fun stuff. Finding them!
There are only 4.000 truffle hunters in the Piedmont area. Not all are of a relatable age and speak English. You need a truffle hunter that is associated with the truffle hunting foundation and that hunts sustainably.
You cannot go truffle hunting on your own. First of all, you’d need a dog and the truffle hunter should really explain about their trade and about truffles, otherwise, you’re just walking around in circles.
Check out the trailer on YouTube for the documentary “The Truffle Hunters”, a very filmographic peak into the lives of a few truffle hunters in Piedmont.
Your guide: the Tartufai or Trifolai
When you book a truffle hunting tour, it is best to find a tour where the truffle hunter speaks English themselves. Otherwise, you need someone to interpret their Italian and translate it to you.
A truffle hunter is called a Tartufai in Italian. In the Piedmontese dialect, they are called a Trifolai.
As mentioned, there are only 4.000 truffle hunters in Piedmont. I reckon the job can be done both by men and women, although the truth probably is that there are more male truffle hunters. Most are older than 60 years of age, so in 10-20 years, there might be way fewer truffle hunters in Piedmont.
Our guide and truffle hunter, Marco, is actually a project manager. The truffle hunt is a hobby (although quite a serious hobby) besides his job in the office. We met on a Friday afternoon, so he cut his workweek short to go truffle hunting with us!
The truffle hunting dog
Although the truffle hunter plays a major part in the truffle hunt, the dog is the one who actually finds the truffles.
The truffle hunter can count on his experience and indicate a good area where some truffles might be hidden, but the dog is the one who actually finds them.
Our truffle hunter dog is called Bouc. He was a mix of different Piedmontese hunter dogs. He was sweet, very well-behaved, and very cuddly. The truffle hunting dog does have an excellent sense of smell, so don’t be surprised if he sticks his nose into places that are none of his business.
Our truffle hunter explained that a truffle hunting dog can get 16 years of age. They are trained to smell and hunt truffles the moment they leave the nest. As the truffle is really a treat for the dog, he really wants to find them. The truffle hunter is there to prevent the dog from digging too enthusiastically and damaging, or even eating the whole truffle!
Our white truffle hunt in Piedmont
We arranged to meet Marco and his dog at a point near the woods. He sent the coordinates via Whatsapp and it was super easy to find. You can also arrange to meet at the Alba train station, but you are expected to drive to the woods in your own car.
Once we met, we followed Marco’s car to the area he picked for the truffle hunt. It was a small, relatively flat area with dense trees. After greeting the dog, Marco explained a lot about truffles, truffle hunting, and his role. It was all super interesting, as truffles are a bit of a mystery.
Yes, they are delicious to eat, but how do they end up on our plates?
Together with Marco and Bouc the dog, we strolled through the area. The truffle hunter pointed out some spots and encouraged the dog to smell a little bit better. Three times, Bouc started digging. Or it was more scratching the surface of the soil. The truffle hunter quickly took a hold of the dog and made room for us to check it out.
Finding the truffles!
With his truffle hunting scraping device, he carefully scraped away the soil. He smelled the earth, peeled away clumps of clay until we saw the little truffle, tucked away in the dirt.
It was easy to uncover the truffle and lift it from the soil. I must say, it was a very calm experience but I found it super exciting! It feels like a miniature treasure hunt. Finding the pot of gold (more or less) at the end is a super reward!
Marco gave us the black truffles we found, but the white truffle he took himself as it represents quite some value (approximate 20-25 euros he estimated).
Too quickly, the time had passed and the tour was over. I think we could have walked all day!
But lucky for us, we did find 3 truffles. Both the summer black truffle and the white truffle. I was exhilarated!
Piedmont truffle hunting tours – what to expect?
I guess each tour is different. The truffle hunter plays a huge role in the experience. The area you go to, the dog, the time of the year. Even the weather on the previous days. It all plays a huge part in your experience.
What stands out about a truffle hunting tour is the following: it should be a fun, learning experience about truffles. Of course, it is exciting to find the truffles, but you should be eager to learn about truffles and finding them. It is not about who finds the most truffles on a tour.
We picked a tour that was only 1,5 hours of truffle hunting. Many tours are combined with a wine tasting or regional tour.
As we spent 2 weeks in the Langhe and Monferrato area, we had already tasted our fair share of wine (and then some).
Here are some tour suggestions
Tours from Turin or Milan
If you’re based in Turin or Milan and want to explore the area of Piedmont, taste some Barolo wine, see some cute hill-top villages and go truffle hunting, then it is best to leave the city and go to Alba.
Some tours include a pick-up in Turin or Milan for an extra fee, but you can also take the train to Alba yourself. From there, you can pick any of the tours below.
This is a good choice if you don’t have your own transport and are staying in the metropole city.
Truffle hunting tours with wine tasting
A lot of the truffle hunting tours you’ll find, include a wine tasting. This is an excellent combination. First, you go out in nature, hunting for some truffles. And then you return to the farm for some delicious wines, paired with some ham and cheeses. An excellent way to spend the day!
Usually, these tours last up to 3 or 5 hours, depending on the distance covered and how many wines you’d like to taste.
The prices also go up, depending on the wines and winery you’ll visit. Here are some suggestions:
- Private Barbaresco wine tasting tour with lunch and truffle hunt. As it is a private tour, it included transport, lunch, tasting some of the best Barbaresco wines, AND the truffle hunt.
- Truffle hunt and wine tasting near Bussia Piedmont. This is an excellent combination tour. You’ll go truffle hunting and taste some amazing wines like the Barolo.
Truffle hunting tours from Alba
Since Alba is named the truffle capital of Piedmont, this is a great place to stay for people looking for food and wine. It is centrally located in Piedmont, near the Barolo and the Barbaresco wine region.
From October until December, the famous Alba White Truffle Fair also takes place. All in all, Alba is an exciting place to stay if you’re into truffles. It only makes sense that most tours are organized from Alba. Here are some examples:
These tours all start in Alba, but you need your own transport to drive to the forest area and from there to the winery.
If you’re in Alba or Piedmont during the Alba White Truffle Fair, I recommend getting your tickets in advance.
- Alba White Truffle Fair: skip-the-line-tickets and tour
- Turin to Alba with entrance to the White Truffle Fair
- Skip-the-line-tickets for White Truffle Fair and private tour
Price of truffle hunting tours
As you can see online or by checking the above links, the prices for a truffle hunting tour are not cheap. As some include transport or expensive wine tasting, this is easily explained.
However, I did find a lot of difference in price for just the truffle hunting.
Before booking a tour, carefully check how long the actual truffle hunt will last. For example, if you meet in Alba and need to drive to the forest area, it will easily take up half an hour of your time. Some tours say they last half the day, but if it includes driving back and forth, is it really a better tour?
In my opinion, the truffle hunting tour is worth the money. It is really a unique experience and the experience and time of the truffle hunter are valuable. However, I don’t think you need to break the bank for a tour.
We paid €50 per person for the 1,5-hour tour, via this website. As you can see, we had a great experience and I highly recommend Marco and his dog. They also do 3-hour tours.
FAQ about truffle hunting in Piedmont Italy
During the tour, I’ve learned a lot about truffle hunting in Piedmont. Experiencing it first-hand was an exciting experience. You might want to do it too if you’re in Northern Italy. But you might have some questions. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions, that I’d like to answer about truffle hunting tours.
Do they hunt with pigs?
No, they don’t. It is no longer allowed. Pigs are not easy to control and although the pig has a better sense of smell, the dog is more docile and can be trained to not eat the truffle (although they will if they get the chance).
Can I keep the truffles?
If you find truffles during the truffle hunt, the truffles are not yours to keep. The truffles are for the truffle hunter, who will sell them on the market. He needs the money to support his trade, as he needs to pay fees to search a certain piece of land, equipment, training of the dogs, and travel.
During our tour, our truffle hunter gave the 2 black summer truffles to us as gifts. We left the next day and took them home where we ate them with fresh pasta. The white truffle that we found was carefully stored by the truffle hunter. He offered to sell it to us, but as we were leaving for home, we couldn’t keep it fresh during the journey.
What to wear to go truffle hunting?
As you’ll be roaming the forest, I recommend good footwear. Preferably, sturdy hiking shoes or, when the weather has been wet and rainy or even snowy, boots. No trainers, definitely not flip-flops or other loose footwear. You’ll walk through leaves, ditches and step on branches. Depending on the weather, it might be muddy, soggy, and wet.
Dress appropriately and check the weather. Bring rain gear, because rain or shine, the tour will take place.
Avoid spritzing on any access perfume, after-shave, or other strong-smelling scents as the dog will pick up on any smell. Heavy perfumes might throw him off his game.
When is the best time to go truffle hunting?
As the season ranges from early summer until the beginning of Spring, you have a good chance to go truffle hunting when you visit Piedmont. Of course, if you wish to search for the Piedmont white truffles, you need to visit the region from October.
Most truffle hunting tours start in the morning, or you can choose the end of the afternoon (5 or 6 o’clock). Do keep in mind daylight hours, as the woodland area can be darker than out on the roads.
The best time to go truffle hunting is in the early mornings. Then the soil is not contaminated with other smells, the air is crisp, no cars or trucks have driven by yet, so the air is fresh. The dog can pick up any truffle scent quicker.
Is a truffle hunting tour safe?
Very much so if you book via a tour agency. The truffle hunter will be accredited by the truffle hunting association. I traveled with my husband this time, but I also travel solo quite a bit. I would have no problems doing this tour as a solo female traveler.
As the activity is outdoors, and maintaining a safe distance is easy. If you travel with your own transport, social distancing is even easier. The only risk is: you’ll fall in love with the truffle hunting dog!
What about sustainability and animal cruelty?
If you’re worried about animal cruelty and working dogs, you can rest assured. The truffle hunting dog is trained and it is in his nature to please his pack leader.
He wants to find the truffles and is not forced to partake in the activity. Everything is done with very careful consideration of the dog. He gets a reward after finding the truffles in the form of a delicious treat.
Regarding sustainability. I don’t feel nature is harmed by looking for truffles. The area is carefully treated. They are very careful to not damage the roots of the trees. And once the truffle is dug out, the soil and dirt are put back into place, covered with twigs and leaves so as to not disturb the ground too much.
No animals rely on truffles for their daily diet, so you don’t take away anyone’s food by searching for truffles.
The truffle hunter is actually maintaining the areas for truffle hunting in the off-season. They take out the trash, trim certain areas and make sure the biodiversity of the woods is perfect. Truffles only grow in a biodiverse environment, so they look after this aspect too.
Go truffle hunting in Piedmont
As you can read from the above, I absolutely loved the truffle hunting tour and our time in the woods looking for truffles. It is an exciting activity where you’ll learn a lot about these treasures hiding in the earth.
It is the perfect activity to learn more about this Italian delicacy and the ancient trade of truffle hunters.
If you’re visiting Piedmont and the Alba region, you’re bound to come across some truffles, one way or another. Learn and enjoy a truffle hunt.
Have you ever had truffles before? What did you think of it? Would you go on a truffle hunt? Let me know in the comment section below.