Written by Missy Johnston
Yacht Charter in Croatia is not complete, if you are a Truffle aficionado, without having White and Black Truffle dishes on board your charter yacht during your yacht charter. As up north in Istria, Croatia, deep in the Motovun Forest, both White and Black Truffles grow in the roots of oak, poplar, willow, beech, birch, and pine trees. Croatians for generations have hunted the elusive White and Black Truffles, that were hunted once with trained pigs and now are hunted with specially trained dogs. What is still a very reasonable marketplace for Truffles in Croatia allows any yacht charter chef in Croatia to easily include Truffles in dishes on board a yacht charter when cruising through the beautiful waters of Croatia without breaking the bank, or needing to pull out the weighing machine to weigh each slice of this aromatic root fungus that might appear on top of dishes placed in front of you when on board.
It is true that Truffles were once hunted by trained pigs, but with porcines being somewhat glutinous by trait, it was very difficult to get that animal not to wolf down their find before the hunter could retrieve the Truffle from their jowls, which made for a poor hunt. So the switch was made to trained dogs, who, usually, either stand back after the Truffle is uncovered from the dig for the Truffle Hunter to retrieve, or the dog retrieves the Truffle and drops it in the Hunter’s hand. Usually…although occasionally a naughty dog might swallow a found Truffle right down, as part of the training of a good Truffle hunting dog, is to give the dog bits of fresh Truffle starting as a pup, so that the dog develops a strong love for the taste and aroma of Truffles, before the intense training begins for the dog to stand back from the found dug Truffle or retrieve and drop the Truffle in the Truffle Hunter’s hand.
In Istria, Truffle Hunting has been passed down in families for generations, and parents have taught their children their favorite and secret Truffle hunting locations. It is too cold in the Istrian winter for the White Truffle to grow, so the White Truffle only starts to grow in the spring and is only large enough to gather starting in September, with White Truffle hunting season from September to the end of December or whenever it becomes too cold in the Motovun Forest for the more delicate White Truffle to survive. During White Truffle season, every able bodied Truffle Hunter is out in the forest hunting the more aromatic and lucrative White Truffle. The Black Truffle grows all year around, and some Truffle Hunters are full time Truffle Hunters always at work hunting either the White or Black Truffle, while others might have supplemental jobs, and hunt Black Truffles part time.
One’s Truffle Hunting dog is just as important and also multi-generational with the same dogs being bred within the same Truffle Hunting Families, so that the mother or father dog might, besides the Truffle Hunters teach their new pups the ropes in the forest. And so it goes, with the families of Truffle Hunters passing down the craft to the next generation along with breeding their dogs within the same family of dogs so that the next generation of family is Truffle Hunting with ancestors of their parent’s dogs.
Both Pula and Rovinj are excellent historic ports to visit in Istria while on charter in Croatia, and from either port it is a short trip to the Motovun Forest for a Truffle Hunting Exhibition and a Truffle lunch at Zigante Restaurant. It is a Truffle Hunting Exhibition, as the Motovun Forest undergrowth is too thick to go traipsing about without the right gear, and truffles are not always found. The Truffle Hunting Exhibition is provided by the Zigante Organization, and leaves with advance reservations from the Zigante Restaurant in the small town of Livade in Istria, Croatia. The Exhibition is one hour long and tickets are around 6 Euro per person or a private tour can be arranged at a cost just for your group. All board a small red land train for a ride to the Motovun Forest with a loud speaker explanation about Truffles and Truffle Hunting. At a clearing in the forest an experienced Truffle Hunter and his dogs will be waiting. Both a White and a Black Truffle will have been buried somewhere along the Exhibition pathway, if it is White Truffle season, otherwise, it will be two Black Truffles. The Truffle Hunter will know where the Truffles will have been buried, however what is key is that the dogs will not know, so while the Truffles have been planted, the dogs still have to find them and go through the paces as guided by the Truffle Hunter with various commands as he moves them along the pathway. When the dogs find the Truffle, they will dig up the Truffle for the Truffle Hunter. There is a modicum of reality to the Exhibition as the dogs do have to do their job in finding and digging up the Truffle for the Truffle Hunter. At the end, the Truffle Hunter will have fresh Truffles for purchase for a very good price. The red train will return all to Livade to the front of Zigante Restaurant.
Zigante Restaurant is in the Michelin Guide and certainly has good first hand knowledge of cooking with Truffles. They use fresh Black Truffles and fresh White Truffles, if in the season. It is well worth having lunch at this restaurant for a true full Truffle experience, and to experience a free hand of Truffle shaving where piles of Truffle are shaved on top of your dish without a weighing machine in sight, at a very reasonable cost. They also have a nice selection of Croatian wines and their own version of Truffle ice cream.
This is a terrific side trip to include when on a crewed yacht charter itinerary in Croatia cruising into the Ports of Pula and/or Rovinj, that are both terrific ports to visit as well. And if you knew little about Truffles before, you will certainly know all about Truffles after and will have enjoyed some delightful Truffle dishes at Zigante Restaurant.