Truffle harvesting

What is "cavage" ?

Truffles can be harvested in many ways, direct harvesting by man with the help of instruments and methods qualified as indirect and carried out with the help of animals. In any case, we talk about “cavage” to refer to the action of looking for and finding a truffle. The word “caver” has its roots in Italy where “cavare” means to extract or dig. In France, the annual calendar of “cavage” of the black truffle of Perigord is officially framed by a prefectoral decree.

Direct digging

Direct digging encompasses truffle-hunting practices that require human action. It is very little used because it has long since replaced the benefit of indirect cavage with animals.

Direct digging is essentially done with a pickaxe. This technique consists in turning over the earth in the places supposed to contain truffles in the hope of finding fresh truffles at maturity. However, there are several disadvantages to this method. First of all it is a very energy consuming method with a very low yield rate, the truffle fields are not only made up of mature truffles, so there is a strong chance of digging out truffles that are too young, with no value for the consumer because they have no taste. Moreover, this practice is destructive for truffle fields which are based on a fragile balance, the ransacking imposed by the blows of pickaxes can destroy the truffle harvest on the truffle field for years. This technique is often practiced by marauders who have little respect for truffle growing. This wild “cavage” is nevertheless forbidden. Moreover, poaching is qualified as aggravated theft by law and is punishable by a fine of 45 000 euros and 3 years in prison.

The direct cavage is also the search for truffles with the naked eye, the harvester will use visual data to locate the truffle field and to precisely locate the truffles that have reached maturity. The truffle field is located thanks to the absence of vegetation around the place where the truffles grow, the ground seems burnt. This exercise is easy in an artificial truffle field, but in the wild truffle fields are more difficult to locate, their locations may be desert or wasteland. Once the truffle field has been found, small cracks or rifts above small uplifts in the ground must be spotted. This particular relief is created when the truffles in the subsoil are ripe. This search can also be supported by the presence of the truffle fly. This fly often twirls just above its nest, which is nothing more than a truffle. Finally, people with a very keen sense of smell can also rely on their nose to locate the truffles around them.

 

Indirect digging

As specified above, indirect digging is done using animals. The pig has long been used to search for truffles and is now part of the folklore of truffle markets, testimony to an ancestral know-how. It has been replaced by man's most faithful friend, the dog.

Digging with the pig

Truffle harvesting with the pig is an ancestral practice that continues to this day although it has become residual. The truffle is indeed one of his favourite foods and he has a natural ability to spot it exactly thanks to his sense of smell, even if it is buried deep down. Once he has spotted the mushroom, he dislodges it with his snout and the truffle picker then has to retrieve it quickly before he eats it. To thank him for his find, he reward him by offering him acorns or chestnuts. The training of a pig begins at a young age and lasts until it is 4 years old. As its life span is long, it can dig for almost 20 years. In general, sows perform better than males because they are more voracious and generate a better yield.

The dog, a savior with an exceptional sense of smell

The truffle dog is specially trained to recognize the scent of a truffle. From birth, its toys but also the mother's udders, are coated with truffle oil. At the beginning of his training, he will be entitled to a treat for each truffle dug up. Later, he will be motivated to dig just to please his master.

No breed is specifically predisposed for truffle harvest, however, hunting dogs should be avoided, as they prefer to run after game whenever they spot one. The learning process must be carried out with care and a lot of patience. This step can be entrusted to a professional who has specialized in this discipline. In the Alba region, in Italy, there is even a school dedicated to the training of truffle dogs. During the training, it is also up to the master to make it understand the right maturity of the truffle according to its aroma. In this way, it will miss those that are not yet ready to be harvested.

Once it is operational, the truffle dog will locate the mushroom and dig into the ground to mark its location. The harvester will then use his “cavadou” (also called truffle pick) to free it. The advantage of the dog over the pig is that it is more skillful, its sense of smell is sharp and above all, it will not be tempted to eat the truffle. Finally, owners who do not have dogs can ask those who do have ones to proceed with the digging of their land.

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Truffles can be harvested in many ways, there are direct harvesting by man with the help of instruments and methods called indirect and carried out with the help of animals. In any case, we speak of cavage to refer to the action of looking for and finding a truffle. The word caver has its roots in Italy where cavare means to extract or dig.