Alana McGee and her partner, a Lagotto Romagnolo named Lola, are on the hunt in Chehalis, Wash. McGee is co-owner of the Truffle Dog Company -- a Washington operation that finds, and markets truffles growing on private property using trained dogs. The buried treasures they're after may not look like much, but they're worth a lot.
Alana explains as she holds a up a whitish brown lump that she and her dog have just dug from the earth: "So this guy is probably a quarter of an ounce, so maybe it'd retail about ten dollars."
They're searching for truffles -- a fungus that grows underground coveted for its rich flavor and scent.
"The white truffles are really hard to describe, it's truffly! A little bit of garlic, earth...it's that really umami kind of aroma,” McGee explained.
Truffle season in the Pacific Northwest starts in November -- Today Alana and Lolo are hunting on private property in Chehalis.
"The truffles grow from mid BC down to middle of California, both the white and the black truffle species, and so we'll check people’s land for them,” explained McGee as her dog alerted on a scent. Truffles are easy to smell, but hard to find. But Lolo's nose always knows...eventually she turns up a tiny truffle.
This digging dog is making money:
"We started talking to landowners and people were interested and really receptive that they may have truffles on their property. And we've been helping landowners convert some of these truffles into revenue streams,” said McGee.
The property she’s searching today belongs to farmer Brandon Best -- who estimates he's made approximately four thousand dollars since the Truffle Dog Company started harvesting here.
"I get good money and it's fun. It's really hands off, it's really nice,” said Best.
He plans to make truffle products in the future, but today's finds will go to Seattle area restaurant.
"There's a bunch of chefs who really like the dog found truffles, because they're super aromatic and lovely.” McGee said.
For Alana, dogs add value for other reasons:
"I do love it. It's a great way to spend time with your dog in the woods. It's a really fun bonding experience too."
Lolo could care less that what she digs out of the dirt in a day is worth hundreds of dollars. She just knows discovering these delicacies is her favorite game.
"She loves it, she really loves it. She really loves the search."