British Columbia

Well-trained truffle sniffing dog the key to finding truffles in Lower Mainland

Truffles can be found in the wild under the ground in the Lower Mainland and the southern half of Vancouver Island.

Wild truffles can be found in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island

Brooke Fochuk and her dog Dexter pose next their their lot of truffles from a short afternoon hunt in Burnaby, B.C. on January 27, 2017. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Two well-trained truffle sniffing dogs are helping dig up culinary gold in B.C.

Truffle hunters Brooke Fochuk and John Kelly have trained their dogs Dexter and Macchi to locate ripe truffles growing underground in the roots of trees.

"It's actually embarrassing how little I have to do," said Fochuk, praising her pug-beagle cross, Dexter.

Fochuk is considered a pioneer in the Lower Mainland's truffle community after becoming one of the first people locally to train a truffle dog more than six years ago.

​As one of the organizers of the province's second annual truffle festival next weekend, Fochuk and Kelly have been hunting more than usual for the elusive fungi to serve guests.

John Kelly says his dog Macchi's favourite reward for finding truffles is playing with his orange ball. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

They say truffles are nearly impossible to find without an animal.

In the past, some people used rakes, but the widespread digging left soil ruined and tree roots destabilized.

On the hunt ... in Burnaby

"Where is it? Show me Dex," Fochuk asked her puggle during a recent truffle hunt in a secret location in Burnaby, B.C.

Dexter scratched the ground with his front left paw to indicate where to dig.

Within seconds his owner located an Oregon white truffle.

"That's a nice one," she said looking at the intact fungus.

WATCH: the truffle hunt as it happened live. On mobile and can't see the video? Log into Facebook and view here.

Running past them were Kelly and Macchi — a Lagotto Romagnolo traditionally known as the Italian truffle hunting dog.

"Macchi is a ranger, and he's found one over there," explained Kelly as he pointed to a patch his dog dug up.

"He circles around and circles around until he hones in on a scent whereas Dexter is much more methodical."

Before Kelly has time to walk over to that patch, his dog has already run about six metres ahead to another spot where more white truffle turn up.

During this hour and a half trip, the quad of truffle hunters take home "several hundred dollars" worth of goods.

They also find Oregon black truffles, which they describe as smelling like pineapples and dark chocolate.

It is one of four types of edible truffles that Kelly says the Lower Mainland and parts of Vancouver Island are known for. 

But he believes there could be other locations across the province where they're available, but few people have been looking for them and even fewer have well-trained truffle dogs.

Tips and tricks of the truffle trade

Traditionally, pigs were used for the hunt but Kelly says the animals often got too excited and would try to eat the truffles making them hard to control.

Dogs, he says, are more ideal because they're drawn in by the hunt rather than the truffle.

Macchi is so attuned to the scent, he's able to find truffles the size of a fingernail.

Macchi (right) is from the Lagotto Romagnolo breed, a traditional Italian hunting dog. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Fochuk says the first time Dexter found truffles, he found 70 in 4 1/2 hours. 

"I could barely get him out of the truffle field, even with bacon. He just wanted to keep going — it was just the fun of the game," she recalled.

Dexter is particularly gifted — sailing through two days worth of training in about 10 minutes, but Fochuk insists the breed of dog typically doesn't matter.

Instead, she recommends focusing on the human-dog connection.

"You need to work on the fundamentals, so the dogs know exactly what you want them to communicate to you," she says.

"If there's confusion in the training, that translates to an inability in the truffle field."

If you want to give it a try, Kelly says edible truffles tend to prefer young Douglas fir trees, but they may grow beneath other firs like noble or grand fir.

But both hunters say best to tag along with them next weekend, when they take members of the public out for a hunt.