Truffle hunting in Istria, Croatia
There’s gold in the woods of Croatia’s Istria province. Hidden below the earth and clinging to the roots of oak trees lie the tasty riches that the region is known for: truffles. Now, truth be told, truffles are essentially just a strong fungus that kind of resembles the clumps I scoop out of my cat’s litter box. Oh, but they are are so much more than that. They are incredibly pungent, deliciously aromatic and ridiculously expensive.
I’m a firm believer that there are two types of people in the world: those that love truffles and those that were born without taste buds. I thankfully fit in the former category. I find truffles to be intoxicating and I would sprinkle them on every meal if I could afford it. You see, these earthy growths are some of the most expensive fungi in the world. While summer black truffles can bring in around 300 euro a kilogram, winter white truffles rake in a whopping 4,000 euro per kilo. As I write this it’s becoming more and more blisteringly apparent that I’m in the wrong profession.
Truffle hunting is where it’s at. It seems easy enough. Just wander the forest and look for truffles that have matured. How do you tell if a truffle is ready to be plucked from it’s earthy home? It tells you. Truffles emit an odor when they have matured (similar to most teenagers, eh?) and can then be unearthed.
That being explained, truffle hunting has gone to the dogs. Literally. Human noses are too weak to detect a mature truffle, but dogs and pigs seem to have no problem when it comes to finding these tasty treats. The only real issue is making sure that you get to the truffle before it is devoured by your furry companions. Dogs are now a preferred partner when truffle hunting as they are slightly easier to manage than pigs when unearthing a truffle.We had the opportunity to actually see a truffle hunt in action (it sounds more exciting than it is) when we visited the truffle haven, Karlić Tartufi in the tiny village of Paladini.
I knew that I was going to like the place as soon as we pulled up. A roaring fire and bowl full of truffles greeted us as we walked up to the main outdoor seating area. Our hosts introduced us to the two different types of truffles that can be found in the area: the black and white truffles. I was thrilled just to be in the presence of truffles but I almost lost my marbles when I learned that we were going to get to try them. A platter was set before us of truffle infused cheeses, meats, spreads, and even a jar of truffle honey. I greedily ate everything I could get my hands on and still wanted more. To my sheer delight, I was then informed that we still had a plate of truffle scrambled eggs to devour.
And devour we did. That photo above features eggs that were scrambled with about a cup of truffle shavings and then topped with even more truffles. If there is a heaven, this is what it serves for breakfast.
The only way to recover from a meal of a million truffles is to walk it off on a good ol’ fashioned truffle hunt. Luckily for us, our new friends at Karlic Tartufi have an army of hunting dogs just begging to be taken out to scavenge for these delicious treasures.
We set out into the dense and murky forest with our guide and three trusty truffle hunting canines. Following the snouts of our four-legged friends, we traipsed around with shovels in hand until one of the dogs excitedly started sniffing at the roots of one of the many oak trees. Our guide gently encouraged Layla (the dog) to dig, abruptly stopping her when she got close to the truffle. Sure enough, Layla had found a prized white truffle.
If we were hardcore truffle hunters, we would have stayed it the woods for hours. Most truffle hunters head out in the morning and continue to hunt until they’ve found a good amount of loot. After our first big find, we continued to wander the forest but after 45 minutes of following the pack of dogs, we came up empty handed. One of the dogs (Candy was her name) did manage to find a red truffle, but we were informed that those were essentially inedible and worthless.
After an hour of hunting, we decided that we worked up enough of an appetite to head to our next destination, Motovun. This medieval town is known for its beautiful scenery, resident gentle giant, and a little tavern that serves up some of the best dishes in town. Stay tuned for a post featuring our meal from Mondo Konoba. It was our favorite meal of 2014.
Tell us about yourself. Are you a truffle lover? Let us know why or why not in the comment section below.