During the white truffle season which runs from October to December Cichin (short for Francesco in Piedmontese) sets off every night come rain or (moon)shine at around 3 am. His companion Chicco does not mind waking up early as fun in the woods is usually guaranteed. For around 5 hours every night they scour the area in search of the precious fungus.
It’s hard work, but Cichin has a methodic approach and this has paid off over the years. He never goes back home empty-handed.
When they stop at around 8 am, Cichin has a cup of warm coffee and starts his day job and Chicco has a rest. It took time to train Chicco, but he is now a companion and a great truffle hunter. Cichin has a long-term rival. The rival is now retired and can scour the woods during the day upping the game. Then there is the poacher who either collects the truffles when they are not ripe yet or digs too far into the ground (not allowed by law) spoiling the spot. “At the feet of that oak tree, in the past you could always find at least 300/400 grams of truffles, some on the right and some on the left. Now there’s been nothing for a few years. The poacher has dug too much one too many times and disregarded my signposts and now nobody gets anything. It’s a shame…”.
Cichin looks sad. Truffle hunting is lucrative but you need to respect nature. He says he always puts a stick on the spot where Chicco has found a truffle to alert his competitors that a hole has already been dug. Even if someone else dogs smell the truffle due to some spores being left behind, if they care enough and abide by the regulations, they will skip that spot. Digging too wide a hole can damage the roots of the tree and damage the growth environment for truffles irreparably. This isn’t good for anyone.
Cichin is also the only truffle hunter locally who does not use any sapin (small shovel) to dig the hole, but only a penknife and his bare hands. “This causes less damage to the soil and prevents me from spoiling the truffle when I dig. When I sell them, people don’t like damaged truffles, even if they taste the same…”.
Chichin shows me his licence for truffle hunting and complains that the annual fee is not enough. “They should increase it to at least 500 Euros to put off unprofessional truffle hunters.
There should also be more checks to prevent poachers from spoiling the environment”. Cichin has been going truffle hunting since he was 19. No one else in his family used to do it but he became interested and decided to give it a go. He is passionate about truffle hunting, like all the truffle hunters I spoke to, and has so many stories to tell he could write a book.
His favourite dish with truffle is fried egg or a delicate salmon, which I make a mental note to try. He recommends washing it down with “a few good glasses of Barbera, what else?”.