Marios Blanas and his companion dog start hunt truffle in Peloponnese, southwest Greece on Nov. 5, 2017. At an altitude of 1,500 meters, 51-year-old Marios Blanas and his companion dog Lacta, an Italian Griffon, start their routine day hunting "black diamonds", the valuable delicacy of truffles in Menalon Mountain, in Peloponnese, southwest Greece. (Xinhua/Lefteris Partsalis)
by Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- At an altitude of 1,500 meters, 51-year-old Marios Blanas and his companion dog Lacta, an Italian Griffon, start their routine day hunting "black diamonds", the valuable delicacy of truffles to be found in Menalon Mountain, in Peloponnese, southwest Greece.
Known to the French as the "black diamonds of gastronomy", while Greece does not have a truffle hunting tradition like France and Italy, the situation has changed radically over the last ten years.
As an alternative activity during the economic crisis that hit Greece, many turned to truffles, one of the most expensive foods in the world, especially in the mountains of central and northern Greece.
According to Blanas, in Peloponnese and in the mountainous Arcadia region, there are only two or three truffle hunters. Not many know that these treasures are buried in the fertile soil of Menalon mountain, and truffle hunting is not an easy job.
First, the truffle hunter has to find the right place, then he lets the dog do the rest by guiding it properly. Truffles grow wild, underground, usually at the base of a tree.
"The dog can detect the truffle smell that comes out only from those truffles that are mature enough," Blanas told Xinhua in a recent truffle hunting demonstration with his trained dog Lacta.
Trained to sniff this rare underground treasure, the dog starts digging the ground to bring it up to the surface. As soon as Lacta finds the truffle, the hunter takes it away before she can ruin it.
Before becoming a truffle hunter, Blanas ran his own company in the construction sector in Athens, but he lost everything after the outbreak of the debt crisis in late 2009.
Moving to Kalamata with his wife, he decided to start over. To support his family, Blanas began to explore truffle hunting five years ago.
As his great grandparents' origins were a traditional village located in a fir tree forest in Menalon Mountain, he rented a small house there and started his truffle venture.
He stays up to four days a week on the mountain, hunting with his dogs for truffles around six to eight hours every day. On the other days, he supplies the special delicacy to his customers, mainly restaurants in Athens, Kalamata, and Greek Islands like Mykonos and Santorini.
How much does truffle cost? "800 euros per kilogram," he said.
A restaurant orders up to around four kg per month. Blanas can collect up to 100 kg of truffles in an year, but this year has not been good for him due to long periods of drought.
"It is not easy, that's why there are not so many truffle hunters in the region and in Greece in general," he told Xinhua.
Truffle hunting is not a low-cost activity.
When Blanas started, he had a dachshund named Clio. Later, he got Lacta for 8,000 euros from Italy, and now he has a total of six dogs that help him in hunting. He trained all of them himself to save on costs.
During autumn and winter, he hikes up to an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 meters to find wild truffles called tuber melanosporum, while in spring and summer he starts from sea level up to 500 meters to collect the tuber aestivum truffle.
Despite the difficulties, he enjoys every second he has with his companions in nature.
In the future, he would like to combine truffle hunting with providing small seminars or demonstrations to visitors, Blanas said.