Deep in the woods in the middle of the night, a white-haired man, maybe in his sixties, and his dog set out in search of what they together consider a good place.
They are on the hunt for the Alba White Truffle, an extremely rare and prized delicacy, sold at surprisingly high prices, which can only be found in northern Italy. It cannot be cultivated and can only be found for a few fall months each year. Its delicate scent and taste have made it one of the most coveted ingredients in the world.
Finding them is really finding a needle in a haystack. Dogs sniff out places on the ground where they might be found, and their owners dig to find them, identifying and removing what appears to be nothing more than a clod of earth.
This particular man took a rudimentary one-lane mud road through the middle of a mountain with no trace of civilization around it, to find this place in the woods, not knowing that he would actually find anything there – and when he does, he leaves with his dog, singing for joy.
At 3 pm on Saturday, November 20, the Billings Farm & Museum Woodstock Vermont Film Series will feature a special screening of the award-winning documentary film “The Truffle Hunters”. A discussion and a reception after the screening with the film’s producer, Geralyn Dreyfous, will follow.
This subculture of older men who have dedicated their lives to this way of life has been captured in this wonderful film from directors Gregory Kershaw and Michael Dweck.
âThey take steps to hide the secrecy of where they feed, guided by their dogs and their notebooks scribbled with instructions passed down from generation to generation,â Kershaw and Dweck said in an email to Dreyfous. “They are the guardians of a tradition, driven by a passion that brings youth to their many years.”
“It’s a fabulous portrayal of a dying era, place and character,” said Barnet filmmaker Jay Craven, curator and director of the film series. âIt’s half crazy what these guys are doing. He goes into the woods without knowing where these truffles are, because they are buried underground. They have dogs that can smell (them), and the relationship with their dogs is extraordinary. “
Recognizing and preserving an important cultural tradition was a big part of the film’s mission, and Dreyfous says this has resulted in extraordinary conservation efforts that stretch across the globe.
âBasically what I do all day is listen to the filmmakers present me stories and I met the directors and I fell in love with the material they had,â Dreyfous said in a recent interview. “The characters and this idea of ââlooking at cultural preservation around food is so compelling.”
âThe extinction of this way of life would be a loss to the world,â Craven said. âWe are all so caught up in our wired existences. It’s refreshing to see these people living so close to the natural world and a way of life that dates back centuries. “
âThese truffles are also very valuable, they sell for 100 grams at 4000 euros. It’s extraordinary, “he added.” They’re very rare and there’s no easy way to get, craft, or synthesize them. You can grow mushrooms commercially, but you just have to go out and hunt.
âThere was a sensitivity and an aesthetic, a concern and a dedication to a way of life that was just beautiful and deserved to be supported,â Dreyfous said. Before producing the film, she said: “I didn’t know anything about the area, about the relationship between the truffle hunters and their dogs, and the threat of scarcity.”
The threat of scarcity comes from climate change and other factors, but over 100 acres of land have been placed in a conservation trust thanks to the film’s impact, along with numerous partnerships supporting truffle hunters.
âThe impact on conservation has been substantial,â said Dreyfous. âAnd certainly the impact on tourism and the understanding of the soils and culinary uniqueness of this region. Alba is a real culinary gem that many people do not know. Cultural preservation is important and that is really the message of the film.
âWe’re thrilled to have this movie,â Craven said. âThis is the first event of its kind. And this will be the first film that we’ve screened in the film series since March 2020, so it’s a return to action. We have scheduled 10 films over the winter and spring and are delighted to be back in business.