Posted by: viewfromtheriva | November 20, 2013

In search of Buzet’s elusive white truffle


Ivan Karlic holds up a winner!

Ivan Karlic holds up a winner!

As part of my Istrian birthday adventure, we spent an afternoon tromping around in the woods with Ivan Karlic, a third generation truffle hunter whose family business in Buzet welcomes lovers of fungi from all over the world.

White truffles are one of the most desirable edible mushrooms on the planet. Unlike their black cousins, which can be cultivated (they take 10 years to reach maturity!), white truffles are completely natural, grow underground and must be sniffed out by well-trained dogs….and in some places, even trained pigs are used!

Natasha with Leila, one of the Karlic's truffle hunting dogs

Natasha with Leila, one of the Karlic’s truffle hunting dogs

Ivan met us in the yard of his family compound, which has a large outdoor area with hand made wooden tables and benches where truffle lovers sit to hear a presentation and then enjoy omelettes with truffles and other goodies like local schnapps.

Last year, white truffles were hard to come by because the weather was unusually hot and dry.  This year, things are going better and the truffles are more plentiful.  And the price?  1,200 per kilo!  So it’s no wonder that Ivan

you're looking at 5,000E worth of truffles folks, the big one is called a "joker" and they are so rare, truffle hunters proudly remember when and where they were found.  Ivan has found only l, when he was 14!

You’re looking at 5,000E worth of truffles folks, the big one is called a “joker” and they are so rare, truffle hunters proudly remember when and where they were found. Ivan has found only l, when he was 14!

and his family spend 6 to 8 hours a day in the woods with the dogs because it takes a LOT of truffles to make a kilo.

Ivan explained there are three classes of truffles…each one based on weight as well as appearance.  Large truffles, weighing in at more than 100 grams, are the most prized and for some inexplicable reason are called jokers.  But no matter how small, anything with truffles is dear.  Even a 90 gram jar of finely sliced mixed truffles is almost $30.

All over Istria people and shops sell Tartuf; mushrooms slices, in oil, paste, infused and more

All over Istria people and shops sell Tartufi; mushrooms slices, in oil, paste, infused, blended with cheese and even more varieties!

The good news is that very little goes a very long way since the intensity of white truffles is something you will never forget….a deep moist earthy scent of woody forest, mushrooms, a hint of garlic and something quite else so indescribable that Ivan’s marvelous dogs can sniff it out up to l meter deep!

once the dogs have sniffed out a truffle, they dig like crazy and if the truffle hunter doesn't get there quickly, the pooch gobbles it up!

Once the dogs have sniffed out a truffle, they dig like crazy and if the truffle hunter doesn’t get there quickly, the pooch gobbles it up!

The hunting grounds are just a kilometer from the Karlic house, down a winding one lane road past a man made lake surrounded on both sides by forest.  We got out, put on our mud boots and together with Ivan’s three dogs, took off.  Within two minutes, one of the dog began to dig furiously and Ivan ran over as fast as he could to pull him back so he could carefully dig out the prize.

“You can’t imagine how many times we lose truffles because if they are close to the surface, the dog just gobbles it up before I can get there!,” Ivan told us.

Ivan with Crka, his best dog, who Ivan trained as a puppy.

Ivan with Crka, his best dog, who Ivan trained as a puppy.

The only tool besides patience and being able to crash through the underbrush to save a treasure from being swallowed, is a small wooden hand tool with a wedge shaped digger on the end, and a pair of gloves.

Since all truffles are underground, they need to be carefully dug out to avoid breaking any pieces off which reduces its value as well as its intrinsic weight. Looking like small potatoes, when washed and then finely slices, they reveal a grayish white speckled interior.

Freshly dug white truffles are wrapped in cloth and refrigerated for no longer than two weeks.  The market is vast and international, so the ‘fridge is not full for very long.  For the tourist trade, various fungi are put up in small glass jars as a paste or sliced and packed with olive oil.  They can last for up to three years this way.

We only spent two plus hours in the woods but the dogs managed to sniff out four or five truffles in that time….only one of which was a first class specimen, worth maybe 50E.  Most of them took a surprisingly long time to dig out and looked like this:

unlike underweight lobsters that are chucked back to grow to market size, a white truffle found is a white truffle sold!

Unlike underweight lobsters that are chucked back to grow to market size, a white truffle found is a white truffle sold!

With fair skies and the sun shining through the forest, it was a glorious day doing something very few tourists get to enjoy.  While several thousand people come to the Karlic compound to learn about truffles and have their omelette, less than 40 actually go into the woods for white truffle hunting.

As we headed back to the car, Ivan decided to cut back through a dry river bed where he felt there was a good chance to find truffles in the side banks. A recent storm had blown down a lot of trees, exposing the roots so the dogs were having a blast sticking their muzzles deep into root burrows.   Within a few minutes, the dogs were digging furiously so we ran over to find Ivan down on all fours.

It was a beauty, the best of the day, but the dogs or nature had broken off a small piece from the top.  Smiling, he looked at Natasha and said, for you! Now that we are home, we have had two different meals using it and still have a lot left to enjoy.

Tasty memories of a day in Buzet digging for truffles!

A chunk of the day's best find, a gift from Ivan!

A chunk of the day’s best find, a gift from Ivan!

If you would like to experience truffle hunting and other great adventures in Istria we happily recommend Istriana Travel, whose charming, knowledgeable owner Zdenka Majcan  was born and bred here and has developed a suite of really intriguing programs (including mural painting on Istrian stone which won a special award from the Croatian Tourist Ministry). Here are the contacts:  istriana-travel@ri.t-com.hr

TEL/FAX: 00 385 (0)52 667 022

GSM: 00 385 (0) 91 541 2099

www.toursistria.com

www.trufflehuntingcroatia.com

www.istrianatravel.hr

Zdenka Majcan, the "queen" of Istria travel!

Zdenka Majcan, the “queen” of Istria travel!

Have you seen our website? the new Croatian vacation portal

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Responses

  1. Now this is so cooooool. We wanted to do this while we were in Buzet, but none of the companies got back to me. I am so jealous!

  2. What a memorable birthday adventure! Apparently the dogs know what’s tasty. 🙂 We recently watched a program about truffle-hunting in Italy. Apparently the competition for the truffles can get so cut-throat that some hunters toss out poison into the forest, which some dogs have sadly eaten. To protect the canine truffle-hunters, owners have them wear a cage-like muzzle on their mouths.


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