Rowan Jacobsen Sniffs Out the Seductive Scent of Truffles
The olfactory experience of truffles can stick with you. One intoxicating whiff might ignite an insatiable fascination with, and pining for, the fragrant fungi that knows no bounds. Coiled up in the smell of this culinary gem, journalist Rowan Jacobsen says, is an emotion akin to love—an experience that you can’t stop thinking about, and that makes you stupid and invigorated at the same time. In his new book Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, with Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs (Bloomsbury), out next week, he investigates why these strong-smelling nuggets appeal to the many noses they might encounter before they’re gobbled up.
The book’s pages are filled with stories wherein Jacobsen meets many four-legged creatures who, like their human counterparts, have been hooked by the scent of the sought-after ingredient. Some undergo years of training to detect it underground. These hounds’ remarkable snouts, which can smell in stereo (their two nostrils can operate independently), are able to transcend space and time by “inhabiting smellscapes in which both past events and invisible players are profoundly present,” as Jacobsen puts it. He details his travels around the world, from the buzzing White Truffle Fair in the misty streets of Alba, Italy (the setting of the enchanting 2020 film The Truffle Hunters, which also follows those in pursuit of the aforementioned fungi), where truffle dealers sling their most enticing varieties; to the small Croatian village of Motovun, where “funky madness oozes out of every shop.”
Even after two years of research, the mystery prevailed: Jacobsen still lacks a definitive conclusion as to what makes truffles so captivating. But perhaps their exhilarating odor, his findings suggest, is the key to their enduring allure: the food’s ability to simply craft magnificent aromatic terrains, “splashing smells across an airy canvas,” as Jacobsen writes, “blowing the minds of passersby.”