Truffle in English, tartufo in Italian, truffe in French, tartuf in Croatian, gastronomic heaven in Foodie.
One of the first things I tend to eat when I arrive in Italy is something with truffles. Although we can purchase almost anything in NY, truffles are one food that are widely un-affordable to even consider in our foodie loving kitchen. I don’t care how much you love to eat, the prices are ridiculous. White truffles are so high in value, they are priced by the gram. How expensive is too expensive for my kitchen? A quick search on eataly.com shows around $168 for 4 oz of black truffles to around $965 for 4 oz of white and at that price range they are out of the question in my kitchen. Not the case in Umbria though where a mere 9 euros gets you a nice walnut sized tuber. A mere 9 euros. We were eating them almost as much as gelato. Well, ok, not quite, but you get the point.
Not being able to get our hands on truffles at home is ok as some foods are more memorable when ingested in the right surroundings listening to the dancing of a foreign language in your ear. If you have never had the pleasure of experiencing a real truffle (and I do not speak of truffle oil – most do not even contain truffles but a chemical) know this – it smells pretty much like the bottom of a laundry basket that had sweaty gym clothes festering for a few days (or even weeks – I have not had white truffles yet but have been told the smell is far more intense than black). How did I come to love the distinctive taste? On first bite it is earthy or what you would imagine eating the forest floor would taste like, but as your saliva mingles with oils of the tuber so many layers of flavorful nuances appear. Hints of syrup, flowers, nuts and honey, and time, and place, and memory…
We had wanted to go on a truffle hunt. We love seeing how and where our food comes from. We were interested in how this tuber became gastronomic gold and why in all of the large, vast, United States truffles (at least not outstanding ones) are not harvested. While we were in Italy we simply ran out of time.
Istria is home to some of the finest fungus in the world.
When we arrived in Istria, Croatia I spotted tartuf on the menu and quickly learned Istria is home to some of the finest fungus found in the world. Istria is a heart shaped peninsula in northwest region of Croatia, and within it lies the Motovun Forest, a perfect environment for the elusive white truffle, as well as 3 varieties of black truffle. White truffles are harvested from September until January, black truffles year round. One of our new Croatian friends told us about the Karlić family and set us up to go on a truffle hunt with them. Three generations and over fifty years of experience, this is the family for truffle hunting Istria with!
Truffles are tubers that grow completely underground in close relationship to the roots of oak, hazel, poplar, and beech trees. The human senses have no way of discovering it; for that you need a specially trained dog. The scent of the truffle develops after the spores are matured and this indicates when the taste has developed. Harvest too soon and the tuber will be tasteless. Well trained dogs (and pigs in some locations) can sniff out these tubers when they ready.
We were greeted by Kristina and she led us through the history of the family and told us about truffles and the environment needed for them to grow. We enjoyed a beautiful spread of local cheeses, meats, salsas, honeys, and all sorts of delicious truffle infused foods. Kristina showed us a platter full of shaved truffles. All of these would comprise the scrambled eggs that the two of us would be served. ALL OF THESE SHAVED TRUFFLES!!
Then the moment of wow as she brought to the table a platter of eggs with more truffle than I will ever see again in my lifetime.
Truffle hunting Istria tantalizes all the senses.
Truffles gently folded inside and mounded on top. It was hot out, I was full, and yet could not stop eating them. Then, with our stomachs bursting it was time to hunt.
The excitement from the dogs is contagious. Ivan opened the back of the car the dogs all started jumping for joy in their pens. For this hunt, Ivan selected two beautiful off white dogs, and a young pup of under a year old that he had been training. They rushed to the car and nearly knocked each other over to get in. We drove a few minutes down the road to the family’s private forest.
There was no need to coax the dogs to get to work. They had a task to do and as soon as the door opened they were off. We we rushed with adrenaline and did not want to miss any of the action. It was a 107 degrees out in the thick humid forest, and I can assure you we did our best to keep up but they were like lightning. Within five minutes the new pup bolted to a tree and began ferociously digging and found a nice small black truffle. Then the competition began and the two older ladies really kicked it into gear quickly finding another. Following the second find the dogs, and us, were hot and exhausted so we headed back to the house. We chatted with Ivan and Kristina about how they train the dogs.
We ate a lot of truffles that day. More than I ever imagined I would have in a lifetime. Since we were traveling by motorcycle we had very limited space but managed to fit one small jar of truffle salt in the side case that I use often. As we finished up our experience that day we met a lovely family from Canada about to begin theirs. We found ourselves lost in conversation with them, and the Karlić Family, and enjoyed spending the summer afternoon in such wonderful company. Each time I sprinkle my salt I remember back to the beautiful experience and warm conversations we had on a hot July day outside Buzet. I have been truffle spoiled, and boy, my taste-buds, and memory, have thanked me.
Karlić Tartufi is located at Paladini 14 near Buzet. The family hunts daily and also has a beautiful truffle and local products shop on their property. Call them at +385 52 667 304, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://karlictartufi.hr/en/ for more information.