Livio is a young truffle hunter living in Piemonte, Nothern Italy, an area famous for one of nature's most sought after bounties, the white truffle of Alba. We caught up with him following an early morning's truffle hunt along with his devoted truffle hunting partner, Rocky.
How did you get into truffle hunting?
I started at 13 years old, just for fun going out with my uncle. And then I started to go alone, in the afternoon in the evening and then at night once I got my licence.
What equipment do you need to be a truffle hunter?
A 'zappino' (the specialised tool used for digging up the truffle), a licence, a trained dog and a lot of patience.
What makes a good truffle hunter?
The most important thing is having a good dog. You can buy a fully trained truffle dog for around 4,000 euros. But the best thing is being a good trainer. I've had Rocky since he was a puppy and I'm still training him. He works very hard zig zagging the land to pick up the scent and if we have an unsuccessful morning he gets disappointed too.
You also need to be fast on your feet when you do find a truffle to get to it before your dog eats it. Some people use a muzzle to stop the dog eating them but I don’t, as without using both the mouth and nose the dog can’t detect the truffle scent as well.
What does it feel like when you find a truffle?
(A light enter livio’s face). I can’t describe it in words.
What would you consider to be a good year?
Five kilos could be considered a good year for us. Last year was around one. This year hasn't been so good, but I found one of the biggest ever at about 315 grams.
Do you think white truffles could ever be farmed?
No, absolutely not, white truffles can’t be farmed. Many people are trying but I don’t think it’s possible, it’s such a natural process.
What hazards can you encounter truffle hunting?
Well often I am out early morning when it’s still damp and misty and dressed in green, it's hard to spot me. You need to be very careful of wild boar hunters as well as wild boar themselves.
Also, you have to be watchful of your dog, as sometimes you hear of underhand tactics being used by other hunters to put your dog out of action for the season.
Where do you find the best truffles?
Oak trees make for absolutely the best truffles, as well as lime trees. I hunt in a forest adjacent to a river which has perfect sandy soil which allows the truffle to develop a good shape underground.
Do you think truffle hunting can move with the times and use more advanced technology in the future?
Absolutely not. It all depends on nature, humidity and trees. In the past people have tried to invent equipment like metal detectors but for truffles but it hasn’t worked. No, using dogs are the only way still.
When is best to go hunting?
In the morning when the scent comes up from the ground. But it can change from hour to hour and also depends on the moon. This year I was expecting more truffles after the full moon.
What do you think is the future of truffle hunting?
Some years ago there were many more truffles. In my opinion there will be less and less in the future. There's already significantly less than when my father used to hunt as a young man.
And finally, how do you like to eat your truffles?
With tajarin is always a classic but my favourite is 'egg cocotte.' I have a friend with a restaurant and she suggested this recipe, and I think it’s one of the best ways to enjoy truffles. The technique is simple - line an earthenware dish with butter, grated parmesan and cream then break in an egg, put it in the oven for 8 minutes at 200 degrees, then take it out, grate some white truffle and mix everything together evenly and then go for another shaving on top. Buonissimo!
Clare Smyth, Hélène Darroze and Nieves Barrágan Mohacho are just a few of the women recognised in CODE Hospitality's annual round-up of influential women creating positive change in the industry. See the list.