Planification de Vacances

Truffle Mania in Istria, Croatia

By Anita Draycott

It’s hard to believe this small dirty nugget resembling a knobby potato that a dog named Betty has dug out of the ground is worth a fortune. But then I take a whiff. How can I describe the heady aroma? Is it earth, musk, garlic, honey, hay, sweaty sock? Whatever, it’s intoxicating. We’ve discovered the illusive “white gold” of Istria. And the hunt has just begun.

Four foodie friends and myself have rented a villa in the medieval hilltop town Motovun the first week of October to coincide with the truffle season and festivities. Nowhere is truffle worship more fervent than in the northern Croatian region of Istria. Croatian truffles aren’t as well known as those from Piedmont, Italy and parts of France, but they are recognized as being just as good by international gourmands. Istria also produces some of Croatia’s finest wines, honey and award-winning olive oils. It’s been called the best-kept food secret in Europe.

Size Matters

Giancarlo Zigante, a local caterer and truffle hunter and his dog, Diana, dug up a “joker” (term for humongous truffle) weighing 1.31 kg, on November 2, 1999, not far from Motovun. The Guinness World Records listed his find as the largest in the world and helped put Istria on the world map as a truffle mecca.

Seductive and mysterious, white truffles were thought to be an aphrodisiac by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Their exorbitant price (up to $6,000 per kilogram based on availability and quality) is due to their unpredictable growth habits and the fact that no one has been able to cultivate these rare and illusive fungi that grow in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of oak, hazelnut and poplar trees.

In Istria, the fungus-hunting season is celebrated by a plethora of rural festivals. We literally followed our noses to the annual Tuberfest in the neighbouring hamlet of Livade as the unmistakable truffle aroma wafted out of the entrance Visitors pay a small sum for admission under a large tent. The fee gets you a wine glass and you spend your afternoon going from stall to stall sampling Istrian wines, brandies and all sorts of products made with truffles—from olive oil to pasta to chocolate to ice cream. As much as I adore truffles, I found the truffle ice cream a bit of a stretch.

Local chefs put on cooking demonstrations and truffle hunters submit their entries into the white truffle contest. The winning tuber is the largest and most beautiful.

In the normally sleepy town of Buzet, virtually everyone who is anyone in Istria gathers on a mid-September weekend to celebrate the Festival of Subotina. As evening approaches, thousands of locals queue for a slice of the world’s biggest truffle omelet, fried up in a mind-bogglingly large pan on the town’s main square. Last year they cracked 2014 eggs; this year (September 12/15) the egg count will be 2015 to which they add about ten kilos of truffles. The festivities end with folk dancing, fireworks, alfresco pop concerts and large quantities of biska—the local mistletoe-flavoured brandy. 

The Hunt is On

Our group had pre-booked a truffle hunt with the Karlic family in Paladini ( First we gathered at an outdoor picnic table while Kristina explained about the illusive tubers. Her family has been in the truffle business since 1966. She offered samples of truffle-spiked cheeses and sausages washed down with homemade wine. In order to fortify us for our upcoming truffle hunt, Kristina whipped up an amazing omelet, albeit smaller than the one in Buzet, but absolutely oozing with black and white truffles both inside and shaved raw on top.

After lunch we trekked into the nearby forest with Kristina’s brother, Ivan, and his two dogs, Betty and Candy. Just as the fungi and tree roots have a special relationship, so do Ivan and his adorable mutts.

It takes about three months for winter white truffles to mature at which point their spores release that addictive aroma from beneath the earth. Often the truffle hunter and his dogs have their best luck early in the autumn evenings when the cold air keeps the perfume close to the ground.

Ivan explained that he starts training his dogs when they are about three months old. The breed is Lagotto Romagnolo from Italy, known for their faithful happy temperament, keen sense of smell and work ethic.  By giving a pup some truffle bits it acquires a taste for them and comes to associate that taste and smell with food. Ivan then teaches the dog to fetch truffle pieces or bits of bread coated in truffle oil buried about three centimetres deep. At first the canine unearths the truffle with its snout as it has not yet learned how to dig with its paws. Every time the dog finds a truffle, it gets a treat. This is clearly an example of Pavlov’s dogs in action.

Eventually, the truffles are buried deeper in the woods and dogs learn to use their paws.

In the final training stage, a pup accompanies a more experienced truffle dog in the woods. When the older dog sniffs out a truffle, it is distanced from the hole and the pup is brought in to dig it up. Judging from their wagging tails, Betty and Candy, seem to love their work.


Every once in awhile the dogs got super rambunctious and started sniffing and pawing at the soil. It was Ivan’s job to grab the truffles before the dogs devoured them. After a couple of hours, we found two black beauties that we purchased and took back to our villa.

Have Some Pasta with your Truffles

To say our group binged on truffles would be an understatement. Usually, we’d start the day with some truffles shaved on scrambled eggs. Then, after a bit of sightseeing or a dip in the pool, we’d hike almost 300 metres to the top of Motovun where the main cobbled street is lined with truffle shops offering free tastings of oils, sauces, sausages, cheeses, pasta and chocolate all spiked with the white or black gold nuggets.

We discovered, Konoba Mondo, a terrific Old World restaurant where you can have your white truffles liberally shaved on all sorts of dishes from soufflés to steak to pasta. They even infuse honey with truffles and use it in a panna cotta desert. Konoba Mondo was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s travel food show No Reservations on CNN.

Truffle Trivia

*The white truffle is considered to be superior in smell and taste to the black truffle. It should be eaten raw in thin shavings over bland foods such as pasta, rice and eggs.

*Store truffles unwashed, wrapped in a paper or cloth towel in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator and use within 15 days.

*Truffle oil, a cheaper alternative, is wonderful drizzled over scrambled eggs, beef Carpaccio and wild mushroom soup.

For information on truffle festivities in Istria, visit




Je veux aller à Belavici