Made in Croatia: First Truffle Gin Launched, 100 Euro Bottles Do Well

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Lucija Spiljak writes on the 12th of November, 2019, ”underground mushrooms aren’t going to put food on the table or raise children,” is a sentence that spouses Radmila and Goran Karlić heard often when they decided to leave their jobs and devote themselves to truffle farming in Paladini near Buzet on the Istrian peninsula, a northern area of Croatia.

Way back in 1994, they initially founded Karlić truffles – The company through which they are now engaged in the purchase and the sale of truffles with their children, and the processing and sales of their products in shops, restaurants and even on foreign markets, as Ivana Karlić, the youngest member of the family, says.

”They said that we were crazy!”

This year, the Karlić family marketed gin with white truffles, the very first in the entire world. Ivan Karlić, Ivana’s brother, came up with the idea, who is described as a creator and a big fan of truffles, so he dedicated that to combining them with every dish. The idea originated from a big love of gin and truffles, and was created in collaboration with the Aura distillery, who also work with other traditional types of beverages.

“People like gin, it’s becoming more popular so the conclusion was – why not? We worked on it for several months, we made 222 limited bottles, the price of one is about 100 euros. Three months ago, they were put on the market, there are maybe 20 bottles left. People have recognised the value of product and we get a lot of praise and orders from all over the world,” explains the young truffle enthusiast.

Since that gin turned out to be a great idea, they have already started collecting the finest truffle specimens, which must be perfectly round for gin, in order to produce a limited edition gin next year. The first in the world also offered a unique truffle hunt in which guests can participate, and Radmila Karlić came up with that idea which adds a whole other, more personal element to the entire thing.

”I’m delighted that we have such an innovative offer for our guests, and they’re delighted. We have guests from New York who have returned five times for the tour, and their 15-year-old child dreams of working with truffles one day,” says Ivana.

If guests decide to take part in the adventure, they can also stay at Villa Olive, surrounded by olive trees, for which the Karlić family won the Tourist Flower Award this year in the category of best accommodation for an active holiday.

Through play, Ivana and Ivan slowly learned the business and became much better acquainted with the black and white underground mushrooms.

“The price of truffles wasn’t high back then, so we needed to find as many as possible to earn something. Asparagus and other mushrooms were harvested, but our efforts were directed by the truffles,” Ivana tells us.

Twelve years ago, they planted the first truffle plantation in Croatia with 2,700 oak trees and some hazelnuts, and every day they watered the trees – the cost of which was high because they were made in a laboratory – irrigated and pruned. It was a big and risky experiment.

“After six years of waiting, my brother went for a walk with the dogs and found the first truffle, smaller than a tennis ball. When he brought it home, we were overjoyed because at the time everyone was telling us we were crazy. It was the first truffle found on a plantation in Croatia,” Ivana explained.

They even get orders all the way from Singapore.

Black truffles grow all year round in the hills, there are more of them and their price is lower. Winter white truffles grow in the lowlands from September to late December or early January, and its price is very high because it is a delicacy that grows in two areas in the world – in Croatia and Italy.

The Karlić family annually remove a large amount from the plantation in Buzet, right next to the forest, which is the original site, they then sell and market them in restaurants across Croatia.

Exports have been particularly successful, selling truffles through distributors across Europe, in countries like Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom, but the orders come from much further away from our continent too, including from Singapore.

Truffella, the world’s first truffle chocolate spread in the world which has been being marketed since back in 2016, stands out in with its colourful product offering.

”Mixing mushrooms and chocolate is a demanding and risky business, but it’s still our best-selling product. As for this season, it’s not been brilliant, but it’s not been bad either, there will always be truffles. The Istrian forests are suitable for agriculture, the locals take care of them, they’re not polluted and no concreting is allowed; we stick together as a community. That’s why we’re glad when someone plants a plantation and succeeds,” concludes Ivana Karlić.

Make sure to follow our dedicated business and Made in Croatia pages for much more.


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