They are a precious delicacy; a kilo of them may cost thousands of dollars. Truffles are edible fungi that, unlike mushrooms, grow underground near the roots of trees. The best are wild. To find them a combination of skills transmitted from one generation to the next, a good knowledge of the land, and perhaps the most important—the acute sense of smell of trained dogs are essential. The search for the elusive yet valuable Alba (white) truffle is the subject of the documentary “The Truffle Hunters”, directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw. This variety of truffle is native to Italy, specifically to the forest of the northern part of the country.
The filmmakers follow the truffle hunters through some of their remote territories. The company of dogs looks for the precious fungus. Most of these men are now in their 70s and 80s, and they see their future in the trade in different ways. One of them has decided to retire. Despite the offers from anxious buyers to return to the hunting, he refuses and is now dedicated to writing poetry in an old typewriter. On the opposite side, some still insist on hunting for truffles despite their old age. It is in their blood; they cannot leave that job anymore.
If the persistent dedication of these old men is certainly remarkable, in the end, the real heroes of the story are the dogs who, by smelling in certain areas of the woods, find the truffles buried within the wet soil near trees. Men and dogs usually end their work covered by mud and dirt. It is certainly not a clean task. Another kind of dirtiness is involved, too: one coming from greed that eventually involves crime. Given the value that truffles can reach in the gastronomy markets, access to the territories where they are found is very important. That’s why some hunters prefer to pursue their activity at night. However, there are also those who do it clandestinely and who even engage in the poisoning of dogs in order to keep them from searching in some areas.
Being a dangerous job for the dogs, while at the same time the canine presence is so fundamental for the success of truffle hunting, it is not strange that the bonding between these old men and their dogs is powerful. They spend together most of the time, and when they are not in the woods, they even share a meal together.
“The Truffle Hunters” is a movie with very good cinematography, with realistic images of a job done in the middle of the woods. In fact, some shots are done with cameras that were carried by dogs to better convey the experience of the animal excavating to find the fungi. A movie that will appeal to those interested in this gastronomic delight and those dog lovers who could relate to the charming animals who are also the protagonist of this story.
In Italian with English subtitles. To be released March 26. Duration: 84 min