How Much Is a Truffle Pig Worth in Nicolas Cage’s ‘Pig’?

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in the new movie “Pig,” Nicolas Cage stars as Robin Feld, a prominent Portland chef who leaves the city’s upscale restaurant scene to live in the Oregon wilderness where he hunts for truffles with his beloved pig. The reclusive chief is forced to reappear in the city 15 years later in search of his beloved pig that was stolen from him late one night.

At one point in the movie, while navigating the criminal underworld in search of his animal, a grieving Mr. Feld said, “No other pig can do what he did.”

“Pig” released in theaters On Friday, Michael Sarnoski’s feature film writing and directing debut, which he says the film’s plot is inspired by stories he hears about truffle hunters camping at night with shotguns on their porches to fend off rivals.

“I don’t know where the idea for a truffle hunter came from, but I loved the image of an old man and a pig in the woods,” said Mr. Sarnoski.

Robin Feld’s journey to find his pig reveals a dark side of the truffle industry, full of competition and sabotage. At one point, a price of $25,000 is set for the animal’s life.

Until the Roman Empire, sows were used for their sharp noses for truffles, whose scent resembled the mating pheromones of male pigs. The problem is that when the pigs find the truffles, they want to eat it. Truffles pigs can also damage fragile fungal structures in the soil and suffocate future truffle crops. In 1985, Italy banned the use of truffle pigs for this reason.

“Most truffle hunters in the world, trained dogs”said Charles Lefevre, a forest mycologist and founder of the world. Oregon Truffle Festival and New World Truffier, a company that sells grafted seedlings to truffle growers. “Almost no one uses trained pigs.”

He said he knew a truffle pig working in North America on Vancouver Island in Canada.

But truffle hunting by dog ​​or pig carries great risk. In northern Italy and southeastern France, where the most expensive truffles grow, the price can exceed $10,000 per kilo. Poaching, theft, tax evasion, fraud, and poisoning have corrupted the rare and luxury truffle industry.

A fully trained Italian dog breed, the Lagotto Romagnolo is prized for its truffle abilities, can cost up to $10,000, and stealing such dogs is a common offense among rival hunters. Unfortunately, so is poisoning. Competitors scatter meat injected with strychnine, an odorless and colorless toxin.

“We’re talking about 100 dogs poisoned in one season,” said Ryan Jacobs, author of “The Truffle Underground,” which explores true crimes in the truffle world.

Mr. Jacobs said, “The guys who are the best truffle dogs, the most skilled truffle dogs, often lose their animals either to their competitors or to those who try to get the dog themselves,” said Mr. Jacobs.

As with Mr. Cage’s Robin and his expropriated pig, when a dog is taken it is a blow to the handler. “I think, in most cases, truffle dogs are also family members,” said Mr Lefevre.

“People tend to be very proud of their truffle dogs. It’s extraordinary that they find these treasures underground. I think it’s an almost universal experience to have an enormous amount of pride with truffle dog keepers,” he said.

Mr. Sarnoski said he wondered early on if he should pull the film into Europe’s fiery world of truffles, but eventually decided on Portland because of Oregon’s strong domestic truffle industry and the city’s “very strong food scene.”

He had never been to Portland before writing “Pig” and had only eaten truffles once. To get a taste of Oregon, the film crew went truffle hunting and dined at many local restaurants.

Gabriel Rucker, conductor pigeonand chef Chris Czarnecki Joel Palmer House, consulted film in Dayton, Ore. Mr. Rucker wanted to display a sense of place when choosing which recipes to contribute, such as pigeon, chanterelles, and blueberries, the film’s final dish.

“What I came up with was a little simpler, less modern than today’s fine dining, but something with a real Oregon spirit,” he said.

“We always knew we wanted to use real food from real Portland chefs, because that adds authenticity and forms the basis of the film,” said Mr. Sarnoski.

Oregon is home to hundreds of truffle species with four edible varieties. The business has grown dramatically in recent years, with Oregon black truffles valued at more than $700 per pound during peak season.

Poaching has become a problem in Oregon, although much of the unpleasantness depicted in “Pig” is of the kind found in European truffles.

Due to their increased value, Oregon truffles are becoming more susceptible to looting. Truffles hunters use large rakes to dig and shake up everything below the forest floor, revealing their delicate root systems along with mature and immature truffles. Low-quality truffles drive prices down, and the digging methods used to get them leave the landscape scarred and exposed.

Still, Mr. Lefevre said, “I don’t know if anyone poisoned their dog or stole a truffle. I don’t think anything like this has ever happened.”

What about the anachronistic pig?

While acknowledging the prevalence of dogs today, Mr. Sarnoski said pigs are “much more unique and lovable”. The pig Brandy used in the movie is not a truffle hunting pig, or even a professional movie pig.

“We found the cutest pig we could find and we tried to train it to be presentable in the movie,” said Vanessa Block, one of the film’s writers.

For Mr. Sarnoski, the human-pig relationship represents Robin Feld’s more traditional, idyllic way of life. “The character Rob represents a slightly older world and a more traditional way of doing things, and a pig embodies just that,” he said. “While we might have found a better way, that was the classic way of doing it.”

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