Truffle hunting with pygmy ponies in the Ukrainian Carpathians

Truffle hunting with pygmy ponies in the Ukrainian Carpathians

Danylo has a fast walking pace. I'm not sure if this is his normal walking speed or it's because he is trying to keep up with his special pet, a white and black colored pygmy pony with blond hair. He looks quite funny to be honest. The fact that the pony is wearing miniature traditional footwear made from leather called opanak is also contributing to his funny image. I wonder if he also wears horseshoes under those opanaks. I ask Danylo why does Pinky the horse is wearing them. "Joke", "Interesting kind of jokes and name practices here" I think out loudly. It's a nice bright day here in the Ukrainian Carpathians. We got up early, as a matter of fact it's usual for the villagers to get up early, at four in the morning they are up and ready to go to the barn and milk their cows, ate a nice traditional meal consisting of mlyntsi which is a thin pancake filled with meat and cabbage, cheese and a friend egg.

Ukrainian Carpathians


To get here at the edge of the forest we followed a dusty and rocky little road through the mountain village, always uphill, we went through yards and wooden gates, it doesn't seem to be a problem to cross someone's property here, across a meadow and jumped over a derelict wooden gate. Pinky proved to be quite agile in jumping over that last wooden gate...well it wasn't that much of a gate anyway, it was more like a skewed log hanging from a side of the fence. All these precarious wooden fences are supposedly to keep the brown bears away and to funnel the herds of sheep that go to graze high up in the mountains during the summer. The air is fresh, the view is spectacular, the green and the shadowy black of the woods blend with lighter colors of the summer-dried grazing pastures and with the stone grey of the higher and emptier peaks.

I hope Pinky knows what he is doing because I haven't heard about horses or pygmy horses to be truffle detectors, from what I know only pigs and dogs are used in truffle finding. Apparently, truffles smell like the natural sex hormones of the male pig so you might want to give them a nice wash before using them in the fine art of gastronomy. The problem with truffle finding pigs is that they eat too much of them and can cause damage to the fungus when digging. I tested yesterday Pinky's mushroom detecting and eating abilities when I wasn't watched by the others but before I say how it went I have to digress a bit and say that Yes! mushrooms are also a type of fungus just like the truffles are. So what did I do? I took a Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), there are plenty of them here in these parts, which was staying in a bowl in the kitchen, I sneaked to the barn and present it to Pinky. He smelled it a bit, touched it with his mouth but didn't bite, didn't eat it, shook his head. Alright, so Pinky is not a Parasol mushroom eater and he wouldn't make a good Mario player either. What does a pygmy pony do when he detects a truffle? He doesn't bark like a dog would do nor he would start digging in the ground like a pig. A little dance maybe? Horses are good at little dances, they can be trained to do all sorts of moves. I asked Danylo about this and he responded in a half broken English half Ukrainian mumble.

We walk for a while in the dark and damp forest for three hours. The smell of the terpens from the resin of the coniferous trees is great but there is no find. I'm also starting to smell a rat. I tell Danylo that it's been enough truffle hunting for today. On the way back we find some yellow and red edible mushrooms so we don't return from the hunt empty handed after all. I also find out from Danylo about an ukranian strongman named Dmytro Khaladzhi that has the reputation of carrying horses on his back, I didn't believed him but when we got back home in the village he showed me a video on his old computer. "Tomorrow maybe better day for truffles", says Danylo, "Yeah, right." I'm thinking to leave tomorrow from this place but I do enjoy walking through the woods and I didn't particularly came here for the truffles so yes, there will be a tomorrow...tomorrow, but it will be a tomorrow with a twist because I want to play a joke on Danylo. I will ask to walk Pinky on the leash and pretend that Pinky found a truffle, a nice, big, charcoal-covered-rock-of-a-truffle.

This is a work of fiction part of the Most Interesting Man in the World collection of short stories loosely inspired from my own life and other real life events.