Watching the Alba truffle’s most skilled foragers will inspire your own search for your joie de vivre
By Jessica Bailey
Avowed lovers of truffle, rejoice. We have a film for you: The Truffle Hunters.
Deep in the dark, dank woods of Piedmont Italy, this documentary explores the lives of a handful of old Italian men and their beloved scraggly dogs as they tread some well-trampled paths on the hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle. Unearthing a good-sized knob, it turns out, takes great patience and a loyal animal with a good nose for the heady scent.
Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, the film was part of the Official Selection at Sundance, Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and the New York Film Festivals and is a fascinating peek inside a practise I knew nothing about – and one that has resisted all of modern science’s efforts at cultivation. These men have been doing this for generations and now in their twilight years, hold the secrets to finding such treasure under a foot of dirt. The demand for white truffles is so big, too, and a piece of fungus that will fit in the palm of your hand could be worth 500 euros. (In 2017, two pounds – or 0.9 kilos – of truffles sold for $USD 85,000 or AUD $109,000.) But as a result of climate change, deforestation and the lack of young people taking up the mantle, these ageing truffle hunters are a delicacy on their own, brimming with knowledge and bursting with passion and pride for their knobby finds.
Perhaps the most beautiful part of this film, however, is watching these men live lives far simpler and richer than my own.
Untethered to a phone screen, WiFi or even a watch, their daily timetables are at the mercy of the sun and they take the time to prepare and enjoy a big bowl of pasta with fresh tomatoes, crunchy bread and a half of bottle of wine on a weeknight. While they love the hunt, they work to live, not the other way around. To these men, the simple rituals of everyday are far more important than those back-alley deals and meetings about mushrooms.
There’s a wonderfully whimsical scene where a truffle hunter named Carlo – who must be 70 or 80-something years young – is speaking to his beloved dog Birba. Sitting in his humble home with the pink walls and black shutters, Carlo promises his truffle-hunting champion that he will find “a wild woman” to take care of his dog when Carlo inevitably passes. He’ll even give her his house! There’s something so pure about the scene, so warm and wholesome.
“Do you think I’ll be able to be hunt truffles in the afterlife?” Carlo earnestly asks his doctor in a later scene.
Yes, Stanley Tucci may be “Searching For Italy” in his six-part series, but I promise you The Truffle Hunters will take you to the heart of it. While we pine to travel and long for the days when we can make our lives that little bit more thrilling, this film will feed that wanderlust inside you and remind you that in your big bid to speed up the pace of your life right now, there’s always beauty in slowing down.
The Truffle Hunters will get you out of your own head. It will keep the longing to travel at bay. And believe me when I say, you will never eat truffle the same way again.
THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS IS IN CINEMAS IN AUSTRALIA ON FEBRUARY 18. THE FILM RELEASES NATIONALLY ACROSS THE U.S. ON MARCH 5.