This trained dog digs up buried treasure worth as much as $900 a pound

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This trained dog digs up buried treasure worth as much as $900 a pound


Mila smells the aroma of buried treasure in a field of hazelnut trees north of Placerville, then paws at the ground, indicating to Staci O’Toole that deliciousness is hiding beneath the soil.

Mila is searching for one of the most expensive culinary delights – truffles. Known as the “Truffle Huntress,” Mila is a Lagotto Romagnolo dog specially trained to seek the tuberous fungi that grow alongside the roots of hazelnut and oak trees.

Earlier this month, Mila and four other truffle-hunting dogs searched for the luxury fungi in O’Toole’s truffle orchards – fields of cork oaks and hazelnut trees whose roots were dipped in truffle spores before being planted. Looking out across the rows of trees, the truffles are impossible to spot. The black nodules grow underground.


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Growing truffle is a relatively new thing in California, but last year’s harvest happened around this time. Most truffle is imported from France or Italy, but a few years ago Staci O’Toole bought an orchard in Placerville in hopes to grow truffle in the Golden State.

“We have hazelnut trees and Oak. They are really the only trees in nature that have truffles,” said O’Toole.

The orchard is in the beginning stages of production and in the meantime she runs a business she calls “The Truffle Huntress”.

Truffle can sell for upwards of $3,000 a pound. They grow underground and the trees in O’Toole’s orchard were inoculated with truffle spores when they were planted.

It takes about seven to 10 years for the trees to mature and the truffle to grow. To harvest the mushroom, O’Toole uses a pair of Logotto Romagnolo’s, which are dogs that are specially bred to sniff out truffle.

“Some hunters used to use pigs to find truffle. The problem with pigs, they tear up the ground and the roots,” said O’Toole.

There is only a handful of truffle orchards in the United States and harvest is kind of sporadic.

“We are not really sure when truffle season is here in Placerville because it’s so new,” said O’Toole.

It could be anytime between November and February. Last December, one of O’Toole’s dogs found a quarter pound of truffle in Sonoma.

For the past few years she has been traveling to different truffle orchards and festivals to share her knowledge about truffle hunting.

Man Made truffle orchards are starting to take off in places like Oregon and the interest is growing in the Napa Valley. O’Toole’s goal is to train dogs and their owners to find future crops.

“Much like the wine industry 60 years ago… this is still experimental we don’t know where it’s going to go,”she said.

O’Toole believes someday California will become a competitive producer of truffle.

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