This four-part series details the four stops on our Istrian day trip. Our adventure through Istria included Truffle hunting and sampling, Istrian Brandy processing and sipping, Visiting Motovun, a hilltop town, and visiting Porec, a seaside town. It was a day full of new tastes, sights and experiences.
I’m ruined for life. After just one bite of scrambled eggs with black truffles, I doubt I will ever again eat a better egg dish. I would love to start every day with a plate of the pungent, fungi goodness and was overjoyed that it was how we started our Istrian day trip.
An Introduction to Truffles
At 8:00 a.m., we met our driver and made the hour-long journey from Rovinj to Paladini. Heading into the interior of Istria, where truffles grow best, required driving through farm land on steep inclines, with the last section on dirt roads. Close to Buzet, the City of Truffles, the small town of Paladini is said to have 45 residents and 100 truffle hunting dogs and is home to Karlic Tartufi, a family owned truffle plantation.
We were warmly greeted by the family and were invited to wander the grounds of their hilltop villa that overlooks the sweeping valley. Even though it was still morning, they started their presentation with a round of grappa, a local liquor, as it is traditionally how gatherings in Croatia begin. With everyone a bit more relaxed, the daughter – who is the third generation to the family business – told the story of their plantation.
Going back 45 years, she explained how her grandfather used to go truffle hunting in the Motovun forest. Truffles grow on the roots of Oak trees, which were naturally plentiful in the area. In those days, the soil was so fertile that truffles grew in abundance and finding them took little more than looking. Of course, then, the truffle didn’t have the value it has today and many people thought they were smelly potatoes, rather than an underground fungus.
Today, truffles are big business, often referred to as Istrian Gold. Looking at them, it’s hard to believe that the little nuggets elicit such swooning, but then I inhale the overpowering earthy scent and my mouth begins to water. There are two basic types, black and white, with the more fragrant white being the more coveted. A kilogram (a little more than 2 pounds) of the highest quality, 1st category white truffles can fetch up to $2,800 USD.
The growing popularity of the gastronomic goodness has resulted in regulations that require truffle hunting licenses. At Karlic Tartufi, the owners realized the opportunity that could abound from a plantation and, thus, became the first plantation growers in the area. In addition to whole truffles, truffle-infused olive oil and cheese are also produced. Their products are sold fresh, frozen and infused in products to restaurants and shops.
Once we had the facts, we then had the opportunity to indulge. First, I tried the truffle cheese spread on soft bread, topped with a thinly sliced truffle. The flavor was heavy…and heavenly. The taste lingered on my tongue and delighted my palette. Next, I paired a slice of truffle sheep cheese with truffle salami and drizzled truffle olive oil over it, the underlying essence becoming more evident in the after-taste, which left me wanting more. Angling toward a different taste, I dripped truffle honey on the truffle cow cheese for an overwhelmingly satisfactory sweet and savory sensation.
As if we were chugging uphill, our feast culminated in Karlic Tartufi’s signature dish: scrambled eggs with black truffles. The simple dish, prepared with eggs, butter, shredded black truffles, then topped with parmesan cheese and garnished with thinly sliced truffles, is a regional delicacy. This year, at the Truffle Festival in Buzet, it was prepared using 2015 eggs (for the year) and 10kg of truffles. Based on my fondness for the dish, I wondered how many portions I would have consumed had we been at the festival (an obscene number, I’m sure). Click here for the recipe.
At this point, I was completely satisfied with our first stop on our Istria day trip, but there was more excitement to come. Now that we had eaten the truffles, it was time to go truffle hunting. Led by Andrew, a seven-year employee at Karlic Tartufi, and with the help of trained truffle hunting dogs, Betty and Lucy, we set off through the plantation. The dogs’ shaggy hair covered their eyes, but it is their nose that leads the way through the forest.
They happily tramped through the trees, never going beyond our sight. When they stopped to sniff the dirt, Andrew stood ready. When they started clawing the ground, Andrew sprinted to their side. Backing the dogs away, he used a flat shovel to pry at the ground and, three times during our trip, uncovered a truffle. It was exhilarating to watch – and be a part of – the process. Similar, I’m guessing, to finding gold.
We want to know: Do you like truffles? What is your favorite truffle dish? Have you ever been truffle hunting? Let us know in the comments below!