Istria is Croatia’s truffle capital. This valuable mushroom grows best in the Mirna river valley, and it can only be found with the help of trained dogs or domestic pigs during a “truffle hunt”.
The prized Istrian white truffle (Tuber magnatum pico) ripens between September and January, and it has an exceptionally intense, pleasant aroma. The summer truffle (Tuber aestivum) grows in summer, and it is the most common variety of dark truffle. The winter truffle (Tuber brumale) has the most intense aroma of all dark truffles, and it grows between September and January. The most valuable dark truffle found in Istria is the black truffle (Tuber melanosporum), which grows from January until spring.
You should buy fresh truffles exclusively when they are in season, paying attention to their appearance and scent. A good truffle has an intense aroma, and should be firm and without any visible damage or holes.
Truffles can also be purchased jarred in a salt solution, as tartufata (a truffle and button mushroom sauce), chopped or ground in olive oil, and combined with oil, butter, cheese, dried meats and various sauces and spreads.
Where to buy truffles
In addition to big supermarket chains, truffles and truffle products can be purchased in specialised shops and delicatessens in Livade, Grožnjan, Motovun, Buje, Buzet, Umag, Novigrad and elsewhere throughout the Istrian peninsula.
Truffle dishes in restaurants in northwestern Istria
Most restaurants in northwestern Istria offer traditional truffle dishes or modern reinterpretations of these dishes. The most common are fuži pasta or other handmade pasta in truffle sauce, sirloin steak in truffle sauce, and cheese and homemade dried meats with truffles. Fresh truffles are usually grated and sprinkled on top of dishes in thin slices. This allows the fullest expression of their intense aroma and flavour, which can enrich any culinary creation.
Truffles in Istria
Istria truffles are a culinary winner that is hard to resist. Since the truffles are discovered in Motovun Forest some 80 years ago, it has continued to be a culinary “hit” of north-western Istria. Gourmets rush by the thousands to Istria’s konobas to experience its superb taste. Popular belief in its aphrodisiacal effect bolsters the magical cult of the truffle. Immediately after harvesting, the fresh truffle is either directly used as a food ingredient, or it is being processed in order to produce high quality products such as a variety of spreads, cheeses, oils, sweets, etc.
Gourmet cuisine today is unthinkable without his Majesty, the truffle. The underground mushroom with potato-like body called tuber lives in the Istrian soil and is considered the highlight of the regional cuisine. Istria has become known for the highest quality truffles – especially the white truffle that can rival those of Italian regions of Alba and Piedmont.
The truffle as an aphrodisiac
Truffles were appreciated by the Romans – they were believed to have grown as the result of God Jupiter throwing a lightning to an oak tree. Since Jupiter was known for its access sexual activities, truffle has been regarded as an aphrodisiac ever since. The Savoi family introduced it to the European courts during the Middle Ages. It was Giacomo Morra, a restaurant owner from Alba in the northern Italian province of Piedmont who popularized the truffle and truffle dishes in the 1930s. The white truffle of Alba is highly valued but Istrian varieties are equally if not even more prized by the experts for their exquisite quality.
Istria has its own truffle king – Giancarlo Zigante, the owner of the Guinness World Record. He found 1.310 kilogram heavy white truffle s in the forest of Motovun located in the northern central part of Istria around the medieval city of Motovun sitting charmingly on a hill top overlooking the the stretching Mirna river valley below. The soil here is damp and the forest vegetated with different types of oak – a tree that the truffle lives symbiotically with. It’s found in wet grounds, usually near the rivers and dug by specially trained dogs.
White and black truffles
The fine white truffle called Tuber Magnatum Pico the priciest among truffle. It grows from September till January and is eaten fresh usually shaved over hot steaming pasta, meat or fish. For this couture gastronomy treat get ready to pay a heavier price tag – it all depends on the weight, the quality, the season.
Tuber Melanosporum is the fine black truffle that grows from January till spring and is regarded as the best among the black varieties, quite popular in Istria. This truffle is the priciest among the black varieties.
Tuber Aestivium is also a variety of the black truffle that grows throughout the year with the price lower than the Tuber Melanosporum’s. The Tuber brumale variety is also black and grows in the winter time and also less expensive than the Tuber Melanosporum.
Truffle Days in Livade
The most popular truffle place in Istria is Giancarlo Zigante’s restaurant in Livade below Motovun. Fall is a very special time of the year since the white truffle is hunted from September till December and this is the best time to taste it. In October there is a The Truffle Days event organized in Livade to celebrate the truffle in the Istrian cuisine.
A delicacy worth trying
To celebrate the valued truffle and its importance in the gourmet cuisine, Istrian government established the Real truffle – Tartufo vero label of excellence that is awarded to the selected restaurants in Istria for preparing the truffle according to the highest gourmet standards. Suggested truffle dishes to taste: traditional Istrian pasta fuži or pljukanci with black or white truffle, fish or shrimps with white truffle, steak with grated truffle, truffle ice-cream, chocolate cake with olive oil and truffles…
There is yet another interesting fact about Istria. This is where Giancarlo Zigante, a local caterer and truffle hunter, and his dog, Diana, dug up one of the largest truffles ever found weighing 1.31 kg, on 2 November 1999 not far from Buje. The Guinness World Records listed this truffle as the largest in the world.
The world truffle centre
The Guinness World Records truffle was cast in bronze, and a copy is on display in the Zigante Tartufi Shop in Livade in which homemade products are sold. When travelling along the route from Vižinada or Buzet to Motovun or further on to Oprtalj, take the time to see this award-winning truffle.
Were it sold on the market, Zigante’s giant white truffle, named Millennium, could have fetched the price of gold. However, the community spirit, so typical of this region, had another fate in store for it. The truffle was prepared and consumed in Istria, in the place where it was found. The celebration of the world record has helped to put the small village of Livade on the map as a world truffle centre.