Truffles are among the most expensive foods in the culinary industry due to their elusiveness. They develop underground, where they are hard for a human to spot. Instead of having to dig around in the ground aimlessly to find truffles, humans learned how to employ pigs to do the work for them.
Truffle hogs have been popular for centuries because of their ability to forage for roots and foods in the ground using their scent glands. Females are particularly effective at truffle hunting because truffles emit a musky scent that is reminiscent of that of male pigs. Therefore, females are attracted to them just like they would be to a potential mate. Want to learn more about truffle hunting pigs? Here is what you should know.
Are Pigs Still Being Used to Hunt Truffles?
Pigs have been trained to seek out truffles for centuries and are still being trained to hunt for them in many parts of the world today, although not as often or as stringent as in the past. The practice is currently popular in the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Australia, and the U.K., among others.
Pigs happen to be excellent at sniffing out truffles. But they are not the only type of animal that is employed to do so. Dogs are also commonly utilized to hunt for truffles. One of the most popular truffle hunting dogs in existence is the Lagotti Romagnoli, which are bred partly for their truffle hunting abilities.
How Are Pigs Taught to Hunt Truffles?
Pigs are natural underground foragers, and they happen to know how to seek out truffles. The trick is to teach a pig to only seek out truffles while on a mission and to not eat the truffles. They should alert their human counterparts so the truffles can be picked and saved. Pigs are extremely intelligent. They are independent, they can strategize, and they have empathy.
Studies have shown that pigs are just as intelligent as dogs and chimpanzees, if not more so. Therefore, it makes sense to train these lively animals to seek out truffles for us, but how is the training accomplished? Plenty of hard work and patience are necessary to get started.
Pigs must first learn to seek out toys and treats in a contained environment when their owners direct them to. Once that is accomplished, the pigs in training can be sent out into controlled areas of the wildland. First, the truffle is presented to the pig, and then the pig is directed to seek out the same scent that the truffle emitted.
Trainers will closely follow behind the pig, and when a pig finds a truffle, the trainer teaches the animal how to alert that a find has been made. Treats and praise are a big part of training. The treats specifically are important because they help ensure that pigs will not eat the truffles that they find but instead, will hold out for their favorite treat to snack on afterward.
How Many Truffles Can Pigs Find in a Day or Week?
A pig may find no truffles in a given day, or they might find six of them. It all depends on things such as the weather conditions, the availability of the truffles in a given area, and the pig’s abilities. The less training a pig has, the less likely they are to find a truffle. The amount of area that a pig is allowed to cover in a day also makes a big difference.
Some pigs find just one truffle a day, which is still a lucrative find when all is said and done. Some find three or six in a day. Some find absolutely nothing. It is not common for pigs to find the same number of truffles day in and day out. Some days, they may find more than others.
How Much Does a Good Truffle Hunting Pig Cost?
In the popular movie, “Pig,” starring Nicholas Cage, a successful truffle hunting pig was worth as much as $25,000. In real life, a truffle-hunting pig that is worth this much would have extensive training and a proven track record for finding truffles. Most truffle hunting pigs cost a couple of thousand dollars. Some cost less, especially if they are younger and have not been fully trained.
Proven pigs may cost a little more. It is rare to see a truffle-hunting pig up for sale at the cost of $25,000. Do keep in mind that truffle pigs should be made a part of the family. They cannot be kept in a cage or foraging area without the companionship of humans if they are expected to work with humans to hunt down and find the ever-elusive truffle.
Is Pig Truffle Hunting Humane?
This is a loaded question that has multiple answers. First, it depends on the situation. Pig truffle hunting can be humane and it can be inhumane. A truffle-hunting pig requires close observation, regular human interaction, respect, and a happy and healthy lifestyle. If these things are not in place, the pig that is hunting truffles is not being treated humanely.
Also, it is important to keep in mind how often a pig is utilized to hunt for truffles. If a pig is subjected to 15 hours of hunting a day, they are being abused. A couple of hours per hunting session is sufficient when humane techniques are put into place. Pigs should have days off from hunting too. After a couple of days of work, a full day off is warranted.
Pigs are excellent truffle hunters, but they are also sentient beings with feelings and empathy. They must be treated fairly and humanely when being used to hunt truffles. Otherwise, the truffles hunted are worthless when it comes to integrity. Luckily, most truffle hunting pig owners are ethical and humane, and it is our job as a world community to keep it that way. Make sure you know where your truffles are coming from, whether you order them at a restaurant or bring them home to cook with.
Featured Image Credit: markara, Shutterstock