“If you haven’t been here yet, then you’re an idiot!”
You might remember Anthony Bourdain screaming his praise about Croatia to millions of viewers tuning in to No Reservations around the globe back in 2012. You also might remember that Bourdain began his Croatian journey in the region of Istria, the culinary king of the country which is famed for one particular darling of the food scene – truffles.
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While truffles are known as a rare and extravagant delicacy in other parts of the world, in the Croatian region of Istria, you can find them in abundance. Used in oil, pasta, cheese, and spreads, truffles are typically found in the dimmed and dense forests of Motovun and Buzet, two medieval hilltop towns tucked into the inland part of the region. Only discovered in the area some 80 years ago, today, Istria is coined the “Truffle Capital” by many connoisseurs of the fancy fungi.
However, this subterranean fungus that has crowned the culinary scene’s best dishes around the world is no easy find. And the only way they make it from the depths of the forest to your shiny restaurant plate is with the help of specially trained dogs or domestic pigs. Namely, truffle hunting dogs lead the hunting spree through the Motovun and Buzet forest. Sniffing their way through the thick of Istrian nature, these canine guides follow the aroma of two truffle varieties – white and black.
Truffle Festivals in Istria
White truffles, considered the ‘diamond of the kitchen’, emanate an intense yet pleasant aroma. The crème de la crème of all truffle varieties, you’ll find white truffles growing from September to January. Usually eaten fresh as they kiss the top of your meal, white truffles are not only the zenith of the kitchen, but they are one of the most lavish ingredients one can enjoy.
Black truffles, on the other hand, are no less impressive, and three varieties of black truffles can be found in Istria’s forests. The region’s most prized black truffle is the Tuber melanosporum variety, which usually flourishes from January until the spring season. The Tuber brumale is another variety that can also be found in the winter (and for much cheaper). Tuber aestivium, sometimes called the summer truffle, is a bit more attainable in the region in that it grows throughout the year and comes with a much friendlier price tag.
Once the hunting dogs detect the pungent smell of these magnificent morsels, they direct their owners to the rewarding area – and thus, the truffles are hunted, picked, and packed into your favorite products or planted onto the plates of restaurants around the region.
DAYS OF ZIGANTE TRUFFLES
Today, truffles have taken over Istria is more ways than one. For example, every autumn, the ‘Days of Zigante Truffles’, is organized in Livade, which is a unique event held over ten weekends. Known as the biggest truffle exhibition in Croatia and the region, freshly harvested white and black truffles are wrapped up in various products, workshops, and tastings for visitors from Croatia and all over the world to enjoy.
Better yet, as a way to honor the truffle and applaud its value to the culinary scene, the Istrian region created the Izvorni tartuf – Tartufo Vero Club (or the Original truffle Club) for restaurants and taverns in the area who engage the truffle uniquely and to the highest culinary standards.
Her Majesty, the truffle, is the heart of the Istrian region, and the soul of Istrian cuisine. And the best part? You can tag along for the truffle-hunting ride.0