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Story about the Istrian truffle - a unique way to experience Istria

Story about the Istrian truffle - a unique way to experience Istria

Treasure hunting the Istrian way – find the truffle!

The rolling hills of Istria’s lush landscape, interlaced with vineyards, olive groves and rich forests are famous for many delicious culinary fruits. However, the most treasured of all are the truffles – gourmet delicacies so precious some are even worth their weight in gold. And as gold they are not that easy to find… meaning you will need an expert guide but even more so their devoted dogs to set out on a genuine treasure hunt! So, whether you are a passionate foodie, a nature enthusiast or just want to enjoy a fun day out with the entire family during your stay in one of our villas in Istria – this is a special adventure you should definitely not miss out.

The ancient Romans adored truffles for their aphrodisiac qualities… for which they were banned in the Middle Ages, but then regained their popularity by royalty during the Renaissance. Today, cooks across the world use their distinctive flavours to add a touch of class to their dishes and are ready to pay handsomely for these “edible diamonds”.

Although they are almost exclusively associated with Italy and France, the Istrian dense oak forests and humid grey soil provide ideal growing conditions for black truffles in the hills, and, the most valuable, white truffles in the valleys. And while the Istrian truffles are premium grade, they have maintained a low profile, as if being a well-kept secret, ripe for discovery. And that’s beginning to happen with stronger efforts to promote them. The international food world is starting to pay attention, with visits to Istrian truffle country increasing every year.

Things began to shift in the mid-1960s when a local stumbled upon odorous rough-skinned chunks in the Istrian soil. Others just thought they were stinky potatoes, so they fed them to their pigs. However, having heard of these stinky potatoes, Italians began turning up in Istria with a keen interest, offering their food products the Istrians were lacking in exchange. This went on for a while and there was little motivation for Istrians to market their region as a truffle paradise because hunters were being comfortably compensated by the Italians. All that changed in 1999 when a truffle hunter from Istria, named Giancarlo Zigante, and his dog Diana found the 1.3kg white truffle. Soon after, it was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest white truffle ever found - at the time. And suddenly the secret was out, and Istria was added to the extremely short list of places where one can unearth white truffles. Today, in addition to the guided truffle hunting tours, Istrian restaurant menus offer lavish truffle-sprinkled dishes and gourmet shops sell truffles and truffle-spiked food products.

2 hunting dogs and a man with little shovel searching for truffles in the woods

Originally, truffles were hunted with female pigs as the aroma from the truffles resembles the pheromone of the male pig. Unfortunately, pigs are partial to truffles, so many of these fungi never got as far as the kitchen. Therefore, truffle dogs became the real protagonists of the truffle hunting season, as they are more easily trained and will leave the truffle in exchange for a treat. And obviously, it is much easier to get a dog in the back of the car:) Lagotto Romagnolos, an Italian breed renowned for their keen noses, are the official truffle-hunting breed, however very many Istrian hunters use mixed breeds and often prefer females.

Training begins when the dogs are about three months old but only about 20% of them go on to have fully fledged careers as truffle hunters. Fed truffles to familiarise them with the smell, the puppies play games to find the precious fungus and are rewarded with treats. As they improve, they’re taken into the forest with older, experienced dogs to get better. Later, scuttling through the picturesque woodlands, the dogs are able to smell the rich scent, even when the truffle is hidden as much as a foot underground. At sight of the canine excitement, the hunter, armed with a small otka shovel, runs to dig up the buried treasure. The rest is a less romantic, however highly priced story that ends with a satisfied restaurant guest enjoying a superb meal where the musky, earthy flavour is king, prince, boss and president all in one.

There are different types of truffles and they mature at different times of the year – different variations of black truffles, for instance, are more readily available throughout the year. However, it’s the white truffle season that especially gets gourmands excited and truffle hunters’ bank accounts swelling. Therefore, the main truffle season spans September through December, hitting its peak in October and November, during which time a rapidly increasing number of visitors and at least 9000-12,000 dogs wander around the mystical Motovun forests. The epicentre of the truffle-growing region is the town of Buzet and you will find plenty of accommodation on our website ideally located to make the most of the truffle season – be sure to check out our offer of villas with pool in Motovun and villas in Buzet.

Demonstration of the truffle hunts (including a delicious meal afterward) are available for groups, day and night by the following truffle hunter families:

Karlic family – the owners of our exceptional Villa Olea: e-mail: [email protected]; +385 91 5797016; Address: Paladini 14, 52420 Buzet
Prodan family: e-mail: [email protected]; +385 91 5512796; Address: Sv. Ivan, Prascari 43; 52420 Buzet
Nikola Tarandek: e-mail: [email protected] +385 91 5696835; Address: Borgo 22, Motovun
Zigante family: [email protected]; +385 52 664303; Address: Livade 7, 52427 Livade
Kotiga family: email: [email protected]; + 385 98 219607; Address: Kanal 27, 52424 Motovun

There’s nothing like fresh air, greenery and wildlife to boost your happiness and wellbeing, even more so when discovering a hidden treasure is involved. So go on, book your perfect villa in Central Istria and experience an adventure of a lifetime!

Martina Cacic

+385 1 222 70 50