Clemente Aliaga Hoyo is 77 years old and has been involved in the world of truffles for practically half a century. He knows all the secrets of this fungus that we adore so much, and he remembers very clearly how he got started in the profession. These days, we know quite a lot about truffles, but what were things like 50 years ago? In his calm voice, you can still hear his experience and excitement, and he is still a Laumont truffle buyer to this day. Truffles are a way of life for him, and that’s how it will always be.
How many years have you been truffle foraging?
Well, around 47 or 48 years.
That’s a long time. How did you first get started in the world of truffles?
I knew nothing about it before I first started because back then, there was complete secrecy surrounding truffles. I had a friend that I used to go hunting with, but whenever truffle season started, he would stop hunting and dedicate all his time to truffles. I was really intrigued by this, so after much insistence on my part, he finally said, “OK, I’m going to give you a dog and I’m telling you now, you’re going to earn plenty of money”.
How did you become a truffle buyer?
I started off as a truffle forager and after 4 or 5 years, a man that used to sell my truffles asked me whether I was interested in working with him as a buyer. And that’s how I started as a buyer.
Were the truffles wild or from a plantation back then?
Truffle farming didn’t exist then. They were all wild truffles. Farming came many years later.
Where were most truffles sold in those days?
Back then, based on my knowledge and experience, all truffles bought in Spain were taken to France. These days, there are companies like Laumont that are dedicated to buying in Spain and, as well as selling them around the world, they promote the sale of truffles in Spain.
Do you remember the first time you went truffle foraging?
The first time I went to look for truffles, I went with a screwdriver and managed to collect a kilogram. I can’t remember exactly but I think I received around 2,500 pesetas or so. That was loads for me in those days!
Was there anything in particular that was very different when you first started?
Back then, most truffle foraging was done in the mountains and it was secret. No one talked about it.
What about your truffle dogs? Have you had any particularly special ones over the years?
I’ve had some very good dogs. I remember there was one called Toby. He was the best. He stayed slightly behind the rest and never stopped finding truffles. I’ve also had some very bad ones too though!
Do you have a particular memory of Toby? Why was he so special?
He was docile and a hard worker. Sometimes, we would go foraging with a friend of mine, and at midday, we’d have a barbecue. Well, when we did this, the dog would go and grab a truffle in his mouth, bring it to me and then paw at me as if to say, “Eh, are you going to give me something for this or what?”.
What does your work as a truffle buyer currently consist of?
Nowadays, my work is simple, let’s say. I contact the customers, go to their homes, collect the truffles and package them, and Laumont sends a van to pick them up. Then, they assess the quality, decide on a price and pay the farmers directly.
What do you value most about working with Laumont?
Laumont provides me with stability. It’s a reliable company that buys everything I collect. They’ve never given me any issues and they pay everything by bank transfer, so I don’t need to carry cash on me all the time.
Are you conscious of how valuable people like you are for Laumont?
I’ve tried to give Laumont my very best, right from the beginning. I’m a bit of a needle in a haystack. I’ve always been transparent, professional, punctual... and it’s never bothered me to travel long distances even for a very small amount of truffles. I’ve travelled from Viver to Zaragoza (around 500 km there and back) for just half a kilo... and I wasn’t bothered. I’m still happy to go.
I’m happy to buy whether the forager has 10, 20 or 30 kg, even if they’ve got just 100 grams.
Do you think that Spanish truffles are appreciated more these days?
When I tell my farmers that Laumont sells their truffles as Spanish truffles, they’re very pleased. Obviously, it makes their product even more special.
How do you see the future of trufficulture in Spain?
I think that production is going to keep increasing because they are planting more and more land. There are a lot of new people in the sector now, and more new faces appear every year.
What have truffles meant to you over the course of your life?
They’ve sorted me out completely. I think that says enough. Everything I have, apart from what my parents left me, is thanks to truffles. It’s my way of life. Going to look for truffles is part of who I am.
In fact, one day, I was walking along and a forager, quite a good customer actually, was outside a bar having a beer when he saw me. He said, “Hey, Clemente! How’s it going?”, and I said, “Good!”. And then he said to his friend, “See this guy”, referring to me, “this guy will die... and he’ll still come round on Saturday to buy truffles!”.