Truffle hunting in Istria, Croatia
I do admit that when I hear the word 'truffle', the type that I immediately think of are the chocolate variety and not the expensive fungi that is found underground. ( A handmade bespoke chocolate truffle isn't cheap either!)
Istria in Croatia is becoming well known internationally for its truffles. (The fungi variety) The inland mountainous region around the towns of Motovun and Buzet is prime truffle land, and on this trip I had the opportunity to go truffle hunting.
My truffle hunting experience was done through a family business called Karlić
Tartufi. It's in a hamlet, too small to even call a village with a handful of houses, called Paladini, near Buzet. You'll need a GPS and be prepared to travel on small local roads to find it, but well worthwhile.
The surrounding scenery which includes the forest that contains the truffles is lovely.
Our truffle hunting experience begins with an informative talk by our guide, in English! Explaining where the truffles are found in Istria and some of the history behind truffle hunting in the area. It's quite a new industry, people in Istria always knew these tubers were in the forest but didn't eat them, they considered them smelly wild potatoes! In the 1920s, the Italian Queen visited the region (then part of Italy) and thought the surrounding area strongly resembled Tuscany where truffles were found. She sent in her truffle hunters to see if they could find truffles and sure enough they did, and so truffles were introduced to Istrian palates.
We were shown 2 varieties of truffles, the white truffles and the black ones.
As soon as the lid came off the container the rather strong smell of the truffles wafted around us. It is rather an unmistakable smell, I have eaten truffles before in Istria at a restaurant near Motovun (so in truffle land!), the truffles were grated over fuzi, the Istrian style pasta that belongs to the local area.
We then got to try some truffles, beginning first with trying out some truffle infused liqueurs, then truffle pastes, cheeses, sausages and truffle infused honey and oil.
The owner of Karlić Tartufi then made truffles and scrambled eggs, first she grated the black truffles and then added the eggs. All were delicious!
After we had eaten there was an opportunity to visit their shop and buy any of their products. I ended up buying a small bottle of truffle oil, have wrapped it very carefully in my suitcase and hopefully it will arrive back to Australia in one piece and not be an expensive puddle of oil with my clothes swimming in it!
It was then time to head off into the forest with the dogs to hunt for the truffles.
The dogs are specially bred and trained to hunt for truffles, they're a unique breed. When I first saw them I thought they were labradoodles! They're an Italian breed called Lagotto Romagnolo, we had 2 trained dogs and a young dog in training with us on our truffle hunt.
The truffle landscape!
It was all very pretty, with the greenery and moss, for someone like me used to Australia's drier climate. It was also very wet underfoot, slippery and muddy!
The dogs did their job, the first truffle they found was a small one and the dog ate it before the handler could get it!
Then, jackpot! The dogs found another one further in the forest, much excitement all round. It was interesting to see how carefully the guide excavated the truffle, it was like an archaeological dig. Any damage to the truffle and it was worthless, so he painstakingly cleared the dirt around it, as we kept the dogs away as they wanted to eat it! They were rewarded once he had the truffle out.
It ended up being quite a large truffle with a little one attached to it, the guide was pleased and when asked said it was worth about 100 euros.
Truffle hunting was a really interesting experience and I was really made aware how important food tourism has become. I had noticed back in the Borough Markets in London that there was a stall promoting Croatian food. Then in Istria, just about all the roadside stalls were stocked with olive oil, or honey or jam from the region. Each local area seems to hold a food based festival, we were told that the following weekend, the town of Tinjan was holding the 11th Annual Prosciutto Fair.
For anyone who is interested in going truffle hunting here's the website for Karlić Tartufi.