Say hello to Arthur the dog, 38-year-old Ziyafet Arslan's cute companion and furry colleague who spends most of his days running and sniffing around forest floors along Turkey's Istranca Mountains looking for some gastronomic treasure.
When the two go out hunting for the world's priciest mushrooms in the forests of Vize, in northwestern Kırklareli province, it usually ends like this:
After sniffing around oak trees for some time, Arthur suddenly stops and his tail starts going like the clappers. Arslan knows they've hit the jackpot when his clever canine burrows his nose into the ground and starts digging furiously.
It's truffles galore, again, and for Arthur, it's just another game he keeps winning.
Arslan says the key in teaching dogs to sniff out truffles is to turn it into a game, reinforcing the learning process with some yummy dog treats, salami or sausage doesn't hurt either.
Not all dogs can become prize-winning truffle sniffers, though. "There are only about 30 people I know in Turkey who do this professionally."
However, be warned – you can't just go collecting these delicious treats on your own. You need to get special permission from the Forestry Directorate first and besides, it's pretty impossible to actually track them without an expert sniffer.
"We choose the dogs according to their interests and the reactions they give to truffles after they are 3 months old," he said.
The average period for basic training usually lasts 15 to 20 days. From there, the dogs start fieldwork and by the time the canine is 4.5 months old, their training is complete. The training, which is similar to that of search and rescue dogs, is heavily focused on smells as truffles are very fragrant.
Underscoring that the length of training differs from dog to dog, Arslan said breeds weren't a determining factor but that they had a preference toward medium-size breeds.
"They can get into spots and areas we normally can't in regular hunting. Larger breeds of dogs are harder to put to work in natural areas. We don't choose small breeds either because they can lack power. Energy-wise, we generally opt for the Lagotto Romagnolo breed (the traditional Italian truffle-hunting breed)."
Arslan said that having a trained canine with a highly developed sense of smell won't guarantee success every time, as the owner also has to be well-versed in the matter, knowing when and where to go searching for truffles.
With its distinct musky scent, rich aroma and earthy, nutty taste, truffles are favored in European cuisine, especially in the French kitchen, being used in many sauces. With over 70 types, truffles have also been added to menus in Turkey lately, mostly at five-star hotels and luxury restaurants. However, this unique flavor doesn't come cheap – a kilo can set you back between 150 and 3,000 euros ($167-$3,340). In Turkey, truffles are concentrated around Istanbul and Thrace.
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