One of the most extraordinary experiences I have had in the Dordogne was when I was working as a freelance reporter for the Sud Ouest newspaper who asked me to go and report on Nifty Nini.

Truffle pig

Nifty Nini was the Dordogne’s celebrity pig at the time who delighted her owner in finding him truffles as a service for his clients. So, one Sunday afternoon in the middle of a very cold January, I set off in search of this notorious pig, not really knowing what to expect.

I didn’t have to wait long at our rendez-vous before a cavalcade of small white vans appeared in the central square of a sleepy little village in the Périgord Vert. Hopping out of the lead van, Daniel, Nini’s master, quickly shook my hand before signalling for me to follow the others. He seemed to be in a hurry.

A working girl

In the middle of a plantation of oak trees on a private estate, the chatter amongst the group of friends and the estate’s owner was suddenly cut short by the sound of stamping trotters and grunting coming from inside Daniel’s van. Clearly Nifty Nini had had enough of the small talk. She was a working girl. She knew why she was here and had one thing on her mind. I realised then why Daniel had appeared to be in such a hurry.

As the van shook and rocked from side to side, the biggest pig I have ever seen came bolting out of its rear doors, in reverse, like a cannon ball being fired out of a barrel. In all her enormity and glory, Nini then spun round and dashed off like she was late for an appointment, squealing in a frenzied dash for the elusive black truffle.

A nifty, tail-wiggling pink missile.

With no further desire to hang around and, before you could say the word truffle, Daniel was off after the pink missile. As she niftily zig-zagged through the trees, her massive hooter catching the aroma of the buried treasure, Nifty Nini would grunt and send puffs of oak leaves into the air. But if Daniel sensed she was fussing too long on one spot, he tapped her rump and told her to move on. In response, she wiggled her curly pink tail, snorted and bolted off.

All I had to do, was run after the others to keep up, wondering how I was ever going to get a word in, take any photos or ask any intelligent, journalistic questions.

After a good half an hour’s work and a small basket full of treasure, a mid-winter mist began to rise across the open fields and Nini decided it was time to call it a day. As fast as she had come out, she launched herself back into the van, coming to an abrupt stop. Clouds of steaming breath rose up in the cold air. Nini was no longer feeling nifty and her desire to be taken home had been made clear.

The mysterious black diamond

Truffles (tuber melanosporum) are a black fungus. They grow underground and have a strong, earthy smell. Truffles contain Androstanol, a sex hormone found in the saliva of male pigs. As pigs have an excellent sense of smell, they are ideal for seeking out the black, mysterious diamond.

Sorges is a small town north-east of Périgueux. It is known as the capital of the truffle because it is here at the end of the 19th century that the cultivation of the truffle began. Sorges has a museum dedicated to the black diamond.

Truffles sell for very high prices. They are used widely in restaurants in the Dordogne and around the world.

If you have a fresh truffle, leave it for 24 hours in a bowl of eggs before scrambling the eggs with butter and cream. If you can’t afford a truffle, truffle oil is popular for cooking.