Truffles are among the rarest and most expensive foods on earth—Italian white truffles sold for an average of $1,200 a pound last fall—and they lie buried deep in the ground. To find them, French truffle-hunters used to use pigs, though more recently, taking a cue from their Italian counterparts, they've been using dogs instead. Pigs may have a more heightened sense of smell, but they like to eat the truffles they discover, while dogs do not. In Italy, there's an official truffle dog breed, the Lagotto Romagnolo. But other breeds can be trained to hunt the pricey tubers, and Jason Mesman, the owner of The Truffle Farm in Mount Majura, Australia, knows where to find likely candidates.
Mesman has rescued several black, brown, and yellow Labradors from shelters because the popular dogs are usually seen as too energetic in his home country. But as it turns out, the dogs are uncommonly talented at sniffing out the scent of truffles.
“I actually go into the pound and look for the dogs that people quite often can't maintain,” Mesman told the Australian Broadcasting Company. "Those with a really strong hunt drive, wanting to play constantly, the dog that chases the ball until he falls over almost."
His specially trained dogs are rewarded with praise, treats and, of course, hugs — especially one affectionate lab named Simba.
“All Simba wants is a hug,” he said.