The butterflies began to flutter in the pit of my stomach as we turned off the highway. Wide angle views of open vineyards and hazy mountains gave way to dense branches hiding groves of trees.
"Chêne!" exclaimed Guy in French as he navigated the Volkswagen. They were in fact Oaks. But as we drove further, I realized something about the trees - they were all the same size...and in perfect rows. We were in a truffière. This was someone's truffle farm and we were going on a cavage.
As we followed closely behind a miniSUV with completely tinted out windows, I could barely make out Billie and Athis, the two Lagottos in the back. They were eagerly waiting to be set loose to do what they were bred to do - hunt truffles.
We parked the cars and released the dogs. Immediately, their noses dropped to the tilled soil and off they went. We were each handed a steel crowbar for digging by our cavage host and told to stay close to Billie.
"She's better at finding truffles but when she does, she prefers to eat them."
Athis doing his thing
Less than 5 minutes into the trek, Billie begins fervently digging. We run up to her, dodging the flying dirt, and kneel down around her. A moment later, she lifts her face, which is already covered in chocolate colored dirt, and clamped between her teeth is a grape sized nugget. Our host wrestles the prize away and gives Billie a well deserved doggie treat. Immediately, she presses the truffle to her own nose. Eyes closed, she expertly analyzes the aroma. She opens her eyes, brushes off the truffle and hands it to us. "Melano," she confirms.
Billie just found the highly sought after and arguably second most expensive truffle variety in the world - the Black Diamond - tuber melanosporum.
We spend the next few hours repeating this process and pulling up ripe truffles from the groves. Our host keeps them in her satchel along with an endless supply of treats. As dusk set in, our breathe appeared and fingers and toes began to ache with the cold. I felt the chill creep up my sleeves and down my collar but could not stop smiling. We finished the day with over 3.5lbs of harvest - a small fortune.
The unforgettable day was capped by a feast of freshly sliced truffles on buttered bread and a sprinkle of sea salt paired with a glass of champagne.
Simplicity at its finest.
He who eats alone, chokes alone.