Truffle hunting and extraction in Italy, traditional knowledge and practices

Inscribed in 2021 (16.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

1.1 Description of the Element

“Truffle hunting and extraction in Italy” is a set of knowledge and practices transmitted orally for centuries, originated in the Italian truffle territories still characterizing today the rural life of whole groups of bearers and practitioners, the “Tartufai”.
They involve a wide range of skills and knowledge (about climate, environment, vegetation, ground morphology) related both to the management of natural forest, hill, and river ecosystems and to the dog-truffle hunter relationship.
Such skills allow first the so called “Hunting” (Cerca), that is, the identification of those areas which foster the spontaneous growth of the truffle plant, from whose roots comes the underground fungus named truffle, and then the application of the traditional technique to identify and extract it, the so called “Extraction” (Cavatura).
The latter is the result both of the dog’s olfactive ability, improved with training, and of the bearers’ skills, who, by means of a special spade called “vanghetto” or “zappino”, act without changing the soil conditions.
The practice of the element allows maintaining the ecological balance and plant biodiversity, continuing the tradition that ensures the seasonal biological regeneration of the truffle-species. Such knowledge of the rural world, already narrated in classical times (e.g. Teofrasto, Apicio), is deeply tied to oral expressions and traditions which reflect the local cultural identity entering the vernacular vocabularies. In fact, they are handed down through stories, fables, anectodes, and ways of saying which correspond to expressions of the typical truffle-based culinary habits that are also shared in seasonal festive events.

1.2 Geographical location and range of the element

The truffle areas where the community practices the hunting and extraction of truffle are in the pure and mixed woods of the Apenines, inland hills, coastal and riparian areas, and around isolated plants of the agricultural ecosystem. They correspond to the territories characterized by a long truffle tradition and most densely populated by truffle hunters.
North: Langhe-Roero-Monferrato hills; Alta Val Bormida Savonese woods, Oltrepò Pavese-Mantovano, Pò, Ferrarese and Bassa friulana valleys; hills of Parma-Reggio Emilia-Modena-Bologna-Rimini provinces.
Centre: Crete Senesi, Mount Amiata, Apenines of Pisa-Firenze-Arezzo provinces; Apenines of Pesaro-Urbino-Ancona-Macerata-Fermo-Ascoli provinces; Valleys of Tevere-Chiascio-Topino rivers; Valnerina-Nera river park, Colli Orvietani; Apenine woods of Perugia- Rieti-Roma-Frosinone provinces.
South: woods, rivers and hills of L’Aquila-Isernia-Campobasso-Avellino-Benevento-Salerno and Alta Val di Sangro provinces; Matese park, Mount Pollino; Gargano, Murgia, Tavoliere Cagliaritano-Sarcidano, Giara di Gesturi-Nuorese highlands; Nebrodi and Madonie park.

1.3 Domain(s) of the Element

Domain(s) of the element as intangible cultural heritage identified according to the Article 2.2 of the Convention:

oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of intangible cultural heritage
knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe

Evaluation Body Decision
Inscription: 16.COM 8.B.18

The Comittee

  • Takes note that Italy has nominated Truffle hunting and extraction in Italy, traditional knowledge and practice (no. 01395) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
  • Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1: The bearers and practitioners of the element possess knowledge about plant cycles, moon phases, rainfall patterns and habitat. Knowledge and skills are transmitted orally from senior practitioners to youth, through observation and imitation. Community associations and museums also organize training courses for young people. Truffle hunting is primarily practiced by men, but there has been an increased number of women practitioners. The element commits human beings to the natural environment, improves the mental and physical well-being of its practitioners, is a source of revenue, and is associated with popular feasts. The element is aligned with human rights and sustainable environmental practices.
R.2: Inscription would promote increased awareness about elements that highlight the relationship between human beings, animals and the environment while contributing to the safeguarding of local traditions associated with rural communities. It would increase awareness of the general importance of intangible cultural heritage and encourage international exchange among communities involved in intangible cultural heritage safeguarding relating to human and environmental rights. Finally, inscription would increase collaboration with UNESCO Chairs to promote research on traditional knowledge systems. Dialogue would be encouraged through traditional and digital platforms among the communities, groups and individuals concerned with the element.
R.3: Measures for safeguarding have been premised on the constant informal transmission between generations. Additionally, organizations and museums have organized courses for transmission of the element, notably including people with disabilities. They have also organized the collection of oral evidence from practitioners and bearers and the mapping of habitats and natural spaces associated with the element. The State has enacted laws to ensure customary practices of hunting and extraction, compulsory training for young people, and truffle-hunting training for dogs. A well-planned set of measures are proposed and notably includes reinforcing informal and formal transmission of the element and including young people with disabilities. Proposals for research, documentation, promotion and enhancement are covered in the file, with the technical and financial support of the State as well as the participation of associations, museums, universities and practitioners.
R.4: The communities have been involved in the nomination process since 2012. The process has included various activities and involved practitioners and bearers. The community groups and individuals concerned gave their free, prior and informed consent to the nomination via the associations that represent them. The tradition of keeping hunting locations secret was respected in the nomination process and safeguarding proposals.
R.5: The element is listed on the MEPI – Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage Elements in March 2020. The inventorying process involved the community’s participation (including through interviews) and documentation efforts. It also included non-governmental organizations, academics and experts. Updating, which includes assessing the element’s viability, is undertaken in alignment with periodic reporting and in a bottom-up process.

  • Decides to inscribe Truffle hunting and extraction in Italy, traditional knowledge and practice on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  • Encourages the State Party to pay attention to the potential risk of over-commercialization of the element and to ensure that any tourism efforts are monitored and well-managed;
  • Further encourages the State Party to remain focused on the animal welfare aspect of the element when planning and implementing the safeguarding measures;
  • Also encourages the State Party to share safeguarding experiences with other States Parties with similar elements.