Story and photos by Kristi Machado
Gino Isidiro is a quiet man, happily content in the life he has led in the hills and mountains of Cagli, Italia. His mantra is a simple one: “I will keep going until my legs give out.”
Gino is not in pursuit of money. He is not in pursuit of fame. A farmer for most of his life, he is no stranger to providing for both his family and the people of le Marche region of Italy. The land is bountiful, and the soil is rich. Having cared for his fields and livestock for more than 50 years, Gino is familiar with all that the land will provide. He also knows that there is more to be found beneath the trees, a treasure that he has pursued since he was 10 years old: tartufi or truffles.
Since before the dawn of man, truffles have been a part of the earth. Pre-dating the earliest humans, they have been tangled within the root systems that are buried deep in the hills and mountains of the region. Truffles do not tell their secrets willingly; a little help is needed to uncover their hiding places.
Long ago, truffle hunters found that the search is best done with a companion. While hogs have keen noses and a talent for locating the bulbous prize, they tend to make the truffle their own. Dogs make excellent hunting partners, and Gino says his truffles could not be found without Lilla, his truffle pointer.
At five-years-old, Lilla is the best of the five dogs that Gino has raised. Ever resourceful, Gino has discovered a way to train Lilla to find what he is looking for without damaging the prize—Kinder Eggs. A sweet treat sold throughout Europe, these candies are not available in other parts of the world. Each egg has a plastic toy hidden inside, and Gino finds the container within the chocolate shell useful. By hiding the dog’s bait in the plastic, he is able to teach Lilla the smell of what he is seeking without tempting her.
The truffles found under the oak tree are Gino’s favorite, particularly the white truffles found from October to June. Some people hunt truffles for monetary gain – in Italy alone, the white truffle industry is estimated to be worth about $400 million a year – but not Gino. He prefers truffles for their flavor, and he feels that they are best served in a homemade frittata.
With a quiet snuffle and snort, Lilla lets Gino know where to dig. He thrusts a spade into the dirt and tills the earth until a truffle is revealed. Along with the satisfaction of working in the sun, he finds that these little treasures bring a thrill. Some days may not yield a large harvest, but there will always be tomorrow. Until his legs give out, truffles will be waiting for him, tangled within the roots of the land.