Candy caught the scent first. We chased after her, darting through branches and over fallen twigs that snapped underfoot. Our headlamps beamed through the darkness, illuminating Candy’s mud-stained fur. “Shu, shu, Candy, shu!” Ivan Karlić said, using the Croatian word for “go” to encourage the dog as she dug into the damp ground. He pulled her away and carefully excavated the site with gloved hands and a small shovel, like an archeologist at a miniature dig.
I was in Istria, Croatia, on a night truffle hunt with Ivan, a third-generation truffle hunter, still full from a meal loaded with truffles prepared by Ivan’s mother, Radmilla. Scrambled eggs for dinner have never tasted so good—but then again, I’d never had them mixed with chopped black truffles and topped with a heaping mound of the coveted fungi, a dish locally known as fritaja.
“It’s like fishing, but in the forest,” Ivan said about the trade. Some evenings he finds a couple of first-class white truffles worth 100 euros each, as we did that night; other nights, he comes up empty-handed. Ivan leads the majority of truffle tours for the Karlić truffle business. The family has a dozen dogs trained to hunt truffles: Betty and Candy, the two six-year-old canines that joined our hunt, are Lagotto Romagnolo, a special breed of truffle hunters that originated in Italy’s Romagna region. Their training starts early, at three months, and it’s a serious business: Dogs must learn how to identify the scent and dig without damaging buried truffles, a costly mistake that renders the fungi virtually worthless in the market.
The majority of Istria’s truffle trove comes from the Motovun forest, a unique ecosystem that produces some of the highest concentrations of truffles in the world. Tuber magnatum, the prized Istrian white truffle, has an intense sweet odor with notes of fresh hay and onion. A “Joker”—a white truffle of 100 grams or more—can command as much as 3,500 euros per kilogram (approximately $1,718 USD per pound). The quality of Istrian truffles is well recognized in Italy, where they are often sold as Italian, or Piedmont, truffles. According to an official 2012 report by Corpo Forestale, the Italian Forest Rangers, 15 percent of truffles sold as Italian were from Croatia, and only 10 percent of the total truffles sold in Piedmont were originally from the area declared.
Unlike Piedmont, Istria is relatively undiscovered in the truffle world and its truffles are much more affordable. It’s also a beautiful place to spend an evening foraging through the forest with a belly full of truffle-garnished scrambled eggs.
Truffles to Go:
The Karlić family, of Karlić Tartufi, produces a variety of Istrian truffle products that gourmands can enjoy at home, including Truffella, a truffle-stuffed riff on Nutella.
Truffella blanc i Truffella noir: white and dark chocolate spreads with truffles.
The Karlić family serves these divine Belgian chocolate–based spreads on fritule, fried dough balls commonly prepared on the Adriatic coast.
Cijeli crni tartufi u slanoj vodi: whole black truffles in salt water.
Black “summer” truffles are preserved in a jar so they can be enjoyed year round. As part of their business, the family also freezes truffles and sells them in Croatia and abroad.
Medenica truffella: honey liqueur with truffles.
Medica (honey brandy) is common in Istria—the Karlićs offer guests a shot of this sweet aperitif before sitting down for a home-cooked meal.
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