Truffle Hunting: Unique Gastro Experience in the Heart of Istria

Total Croatia News

Donatella Pauković
Donatella Pauković

Donatella Pauković

July 24, 2020 – The Karlić family was the first in Croatia to offer visitors the experience of truffle hunting. We headed out on this unique and above all demanding activity with a truffle hunter and a dog Lila that has been specially trained to search for truffles. In addition to the experience of hunting on the property of the Karlić family, the tour also included tasting specialties with truffles, and owner Ivana prepared them in front of us.

A small number of people in Croatia are engaged in the production of truffle products. The Karlić family is one of the few families in Istria that is more seriously engaged in their production and distribution, but also in hunting. Interestingly, because of local peoples’ tradition, it is said truffle “hunting”, not harvesting.

More dogs than humans

Truffles in Croatia grow mainly in central Istria, and in the rest of the world, they can be found in Italy and small quantities in France, Germany, Austria, and some other countries. They are mostly used by people in Italy and Croatia.

The Karlić family started their story about truffles when their grandfather started researching them 40 years ago. He quickly passed this love on to his wife and daughter, Ivana’s mother. It was strange because, at that time, she was supposed to have a “female“ job, not be in the woods with other guys, but she didn’t care. Later, she started a family business. Her children Ivan and Ivana also literally grew up in the woods truffle hunting.

At the entrance to a beautifully landscaped yard in the small central Istrian village of Paladini, I and a few other visitors were greeted by Ivana Karlić together with their seven truffle hunting dogs. She explained that there are more dogs than people living in Paladini, located a 40-minute drive from Poreč. There are only about 40 inhabitants, and about 100 dogs because all the people there are engaged in truffle hunting.

 

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Ivana Karić introduced us to the Istrian tradition of truffle hunting

 

I was enchanted by the large tasting room for sampling truffles, which perfectly fits in with the nature of central Istria. The panoramic view of the surroundings of Motovun leaves you breathless, as well as the truffle specialties prepared in front of you by Ivana.

Demand for truffles

At the beginning of the truffle hunting tour, Ivana introduced us to the family tradition and we “warmed up“ by tasting homemade truffle rakia – Biska, Teranino, and Medenica.

You can’t go truffle hunting in the woods on an empty stomach, so three sequences of dishes followed – slices of sausage and cheese, scrambled eggs, and candied fritters. All the specialties were extremely delicious and filling. That’s why it is advised to come hungry. Ivana prepared all the specialties for us in the open kitchen in the tasting room. We could see the whole process of preparing and cooking dishes with truffles. While she was cooking and serving us, Ivana was casually telling the story about truffles and her family.

 

 

Truffles and truffle products such as oil, cheese, sausages, rakia, and even chocolate spread can be bought at the shop on the property. Recently they even opened a store in Poreč.

The idea of opening a store came up during self-isolation when they finally had time to think about it, plan it, and realize it. Until now, their products could have only been bought on their property, and their truffles were found in the dishes of many Istrian restaurants, most of which are in Poreč.

“We opted for Poreč because we cooperate with a large number of restaurants here. A lot of people who eat in these restaurants want to buy truffles, but they don’t want to come to Paladini only to buy them, so we thought it was a perfect opportunity for guests to buy truffles and take them home,“ says Ivana.

Also, during the lockdown, when they were forced to stay home, and also when the amount of work in tourism was much smaller, they opened an online store to sell their products.

 

Truffle shop in the Istrian city of Poreč

 

Training dogs (and people) to truffle hunt

After Ivana fed us well, we went hunting in the woods. Fifteen years ago, the Karlić family launched guided tours with truffle hunting dogs to give tourists a direct insight into how difficult it is to find truffles in the woods. The truffle is, in fact, an underground fungus that grows in symbiosis with trees, at their roots, most commonly oak and hazelnut trees. This makes them extremely difficult to find, so specially trained dogs are needed to search for them.

“Any dog breed can truffle hunt, but the best breed is the Italian Lagotto Romagnolo. They are very obedient and have a good sense of smell. It is easy to train them. Females are much better at truffle hunting because they are focused on truffle hunting all year round, while males are in one part of the year focused on looking for females and are therefore ‘distracted’,“ explains Ivana.

The Karlić family trains dogs too, as well as organizing courses and exams for future truffle hunters, as people who go truffle hunting are called.

“The training itself lasts one year. We are training them since they are 3 to 4 months old, through the game. We give them truffle treats, we bury truffles, we show them how to dig truffles… The last and most important learning process is the departure of a small puppy with an adult truffle hunting dog to hunt. An adult dog starts digging, gets a reward, a small dog is always jealous of it and then because of his jealousy he will start looking for truffles and get a reward for finding it,“ says Ivana and adds that they only train their dogs.