Many associate Italy with the expensive and decadent mushroom known to the world as a “truffle”. These fabled fungi can cost thousands of dollars and grace menus of the world’s best culinary institutions. For some, Italy has always reigned supreme as the supplier of the world’s truffles, that is, until now.
Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, though different than the area of Piedmont, in Italy, where truffles are mainly found, is fast becoming one of the most sought after producing areas of the intoxicatingly perfumed black and white mushroom. It has long been a thing for locals, hunting in the woods that are covered in damp black soil. They hunt around the area’s small villages and forests for their beautiful truffles.
Karlić Tartufi, a family-run business that has been in the business of truffles for a long time, has always known that their homeland was a prime spot for truffle spotting. They are the undoubted kings of the region, when it comes to truffles, and have built a small empire offering everything from raw truffles to truffle salt, cream, oil and other infused condiments.
I was a recent guest of the Karlić family, and participated in a truffle hunt with the family’s son – Ivan. With his specially trained dogs, we set out into the woods so I could try my hand at this surprisingly difficult task. For nearly 45 minutes, Ivan explained to me the process. He detailed how to look for the right type of soil, the types of trees with roots prime to protect the delicate truffle, how the dogs are trained and everything else in between. Watching the dogs instantly go to work, in a game that has become a large part of their existence, I couldn’t help but be taken by the feeling of excitement seen in both Ivan and his dogs’ eyes.
We ran, not walked, through the forest, dodging branches, bushes and thorns – all obstacles on your way to truffle heaven. The dogs’ snouts never left the ground, stopping only to signal their owner that the buried treasure might be nearby. Once a truffle was located, Ivan stepped-in coaxing the dogs aside with a treat, their reward in this game. He began to dig in the area with a small hand shovel, using his fingers often as not to damage what truffles were hiding beneath the rich black dirt. Jackpot! We located two black and one rare white truffle – worth nearly $300 at market.
After the chase was through, we returned to the Ivan’s family home – a stunning villa atop a hill overlooking Istria’s foggy hills and blue skies. It was clear that truffles and truffle hunting are becoming an increasingly important part of the economy and life here on the peninsula. It always has been, but now the international culinary community is taking notice. You won’t find a better place to experience fantastic Croatian truffles or join-in on a hunt. I ended my morning eating buttery scrambled eggs cooked-up with loads of shaved black truffles. I don’t think I could have gotten any closer to heaven that day, on top of the truffle-scented hill the Karlić family calls home.