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Truffle hunters hot on the scent

From handling police detection dogs to training truffle hunting canines, Dean Poletta and Warren Rogers have a lot to thank their four-legged friends for.

Not only have the workmates spent most of their careers training dogs to sniff out crime, but – in what promises to offer a unique new experience for local foodies – they have built the only truffle dog detection business in the Hills.
Dean and Warren are behind Adelaide Hills Truffle Dogs, a service that sniffs out the prized fungus – a cullinary delicacy renowned for its earthy and nutty flavour, which retails for about $2000/kg.
Hot on the scent of the truffles are Labrador Gus and Koolie Ruby.
Warren works four-year-old Ruby who has bounds of stamina and an unwavering dedication to pleasing her owner.
“She’s a really good truffle dog,” says Dean.
“The farms we work on are quite hilly and steep and she just keeps going, whereas while Gus is a natural hunter, he can get a bit tired quicker.”
Truffles are grown in rich soil near the roots of trees such as oak or hazelnuts and are usually found in the cool climate regions of France, Italy, Spain and Australia.
Harvested during winter, mature truffles give off an aroma which can be sniffed out by dogs trained to help unearth the prized culinary ingredient, which is often shaved and used to garnish dishes such as pasta and pizza. With a pricetag comparable to some types of caviar, the unearthing process is all the more important.
“The hardest part is teaching the dogs to dig.
“We encourage them to mark the ground and dig but we can’t allow them to dig too much because they might strike the truffle or displace it,” Warren says.

A truffle sliced open to reveal its dense composition.

“In the old days in Europe they used pigs which were naturally attracted to the smell of truffles. The trouble was that pigs could get a liking to them, and you can’t stick your hand in a pig’s mouth to get the truffle out.”
This winter Adelaide Hills Truffle Dogs teamed up with The Tailor Touring Co to host a gourmet truffle hunting experience – believed to be a first for SA foodies. Guests visited Fleurieu farm Lovely Valley Truffles to learn about the delicacy before stopping at The Currant Shed to enjoy lunch and a wine tasting at Geddes Wines. Gus and Ruby took centre stage during the tours, which provided a first-hand look into the hunts.
While the truffle dog training process is arduous, there’s nothing quite like the moment of discovery.
“There’s no better feeling than watching your dog learn,” Dean says.
“There’s been many times when we can see the penny drop for the dog. Suddenly, the previous trainings come together.
“You can see the dog is on cloud nine, and we’re on cloud nine. It feels so good to know that our hard work pays off.”

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