Truffle Hunting in Croatia
By Jon Bailey - January 30, 2020
I just recently went truffle hunting in Croatia and it was ah-mazing! I’ve heard stories about how they are hunted and found in the dirt, sometimes by trained dogs or pigs. Certainly when they are fresh, truffles can be delicious additions to many dishes. However, I didn’t know you can participate in a real truffle hunting experience in Northern Croatia. Truffle hunting in Croatia – did I mention it was amazing?
Truffles have always been one of those elusive things to me. They’ve always seemed so expensive and revered, like a special gem you can eat as a delicacy. For a while there, it seemed like the flavor of truffles was everywhere. You could get them on french fries, in soups, pastas and even cheeses. The fad was overwhelming, and honestly I was kind of over it.
What I failed to realize in being overrun by truffles is that those truffles weren’t very good. It’s not that truffles don’t taste good, it’s just that some poor quality ones taste bad. Good news! In Croatia, truffles are of the best quality – and they taste absolutely delicious!
Truffle Hunting in Croatia
Evidently Northern Croatia is very well known for their superb truffles. I had never known this. I’ve heard of truffles coming from France, Italy and even Spain. But never from Croatia. Well, guess I was out of the loop on this one because Croatia is one of the world’s preeminent sources of high quality truffles.
It seems the soil is just right for growing truffles in Northern Croatia. Truffles love the loamy clay soil of the Motovun Forest in Istria, Croatia’s most northern province. Both black and white truffles grow in this area, and can be quite prolific. As the popularity of truffles has grown, demand for these valuable balls of fungus has grown in Croatia. Both black and white truffles can be found here, although the white variety are considered more rare and valuable.
Luckily, our group visited in the winter when white truffles are in season. Not only did we get to go truffle hunting in Croatia, but we got to eat them too. Tons of them. And guess what? I really like fresh truffles from Croatia!
Motovun Forest in Istria
White truffles are known as culinary diamonds to some. They are rare and delicious, considered superior to the more common black variety. In fact, white truffles are only found in Istria and in Italy – nowhere else in the world. The Motovun Forest is considered Truffle Central, so we headed there for our experience truffle hunting in Croatia.
The Motovun Forest is largely protected land, and truffle hunters must have licensed permits in order to enter it. Good thing hoards of people aren’t trouncing through the forest, because truffle hunting is not easy. You don’t just wander out and start digging under a tree to find them. It’s a trained art, and it can be a very lucrative one considering some larger white truffles sell for as much as 500-5000 Euros per kilo. Black truffles, on the other hand, sell for 1/10th of the price of white ones because they are much more prolific all year around.
An Experience with Karlic Tartufi
Our truffle hunting in Croatia outing was hosted by the owners of Karlic Tartufi, a truffle enterprise in Paladini near the city of Motovun. Before we headed out to hunt though, we needed sustenance. Our new friends at Karlic Tartufi had prepared a wonderful and decadent breakfast for us. It was literally a smorgasbord of truffles. I’ve never seen so many truffles in one place – mounds and mounds of them. We must have eaten thousands of dollars worth of truffles during breakfast that morning!
We sampled so many delicious things, and my favorite by far was scrambled eggs with truffles. The sweet creamy taste of the eggs marries perfectly with the loamy, mushroomy aromatics of the truffles. The flavor combination is superb.
Of course we had to wash this down with something, and luckily wine was nearby. Our hosts poured several bottles of from local wineries, and all were so delicious. Our group was intrigued to taste the truffle-infused wine, as well as the variety infused with mistletoe. (I thought mistletoe was poisonous, but guess not when distilled within wine properly.)
Hunting for Truffles in Croatia with Dogs
I always thought pigs were used to help people find the elusive truffles growing under the ground. Well, not in Croatia anyway. Here they use dogs – female ones are preferred because they are less easily distracted (hmmm – go figure). Evidently pigs are messy and because they dig with their snouts will often find and eat the truffles before the hunters can pull them away. Oh, and they’re mean and they bite when they don’t get their way. So yeah, no pigs when you are truffle hunting in Croatia.
Dogs are raised to be truffle hunters, specially trained to recognize the tell-tale scent. We were told that mixed breed dogs perform best. The three good girls on our hunt looked to be a cross between retrievers and hounds, friendly and sweet as could be.
Our guide Sanjin helped us hoist on our mud boots, clamber into the van and head down to a forest road. From there, the dogs went wild and ran like bats out of hell into the trees. Sanjin whistled and whooped, and they came running back all excited and ready to embark.
And off we trudged down a muddy trail through beautiful moss-covered trees.
Finding Truffles in the Croatian Forest
Truffle hunting in Croatia is not as easy as it seems. With the help of trained dogs and a good guide, you can get lucky quickly. Or as in the case of our group, not so quickly. After a beautiful walk in the woods and several false alarms, our dogs finally found a truffle spot.
Quick to pull the dogs away, Sanjin dug into the soft ground the dogs had indicated. Within short order, out popped a truffle. We could smell the distinctive truffle scent wafting from the ground far before we found the actual truffle. And sure enough, Sanjin brought one up from the ground. Too small for consumption, we refrained from eating it on the spot.
I’m sure the dogs weren’t happy to head back, but it was time to go. What a fun adventure in the forest of Istria – truffle hunting in Croatia is definitely an experience worth investigating again.
For more on Croatia, read our post about Christmas Markets in Croatia!