A seminar on a wonder of nature.
Istria, the peninsula in North-western Croatia, is best known for Tourism, but has some special treasures to offer to Gastronomy: White truffles or Tuber Magnato Pico by its scientific name or Istarski Bijeli Tartuf in Croatian.
Although the Romans already knew these high class mushrooms and appreciated its medical properties as well as its taste, the modern Gastronomy took 2000 years to rediscover it in this region. Everybody knows the famous white truffle from the Piemont and some other Italian regions, or the black truffle from Périgord (France), but it's only some ten years ago that Istria restarted the systematic marketing of this black and white unique culinary product.
The seminar started on Wednesday, October 1, with the arrival of most of the participants. Most means here that all should in fact have arrived that day, except the Slovenian team arriving by car on Thursday. Here was a perfect example of the (dis)advantages of the EU and its free mobility politics. Our Italian friends, coming from San Benedetto di Tronto arrived the Trieste train station on Wednesday evening, where they were received by a transfer team form the organizer to be brought down to Poreč by car. At the Croatian border, the director of the Italian school, member of the team, noticed at that moment that he had no ID-Card or Passport, thus not being able to cross the border. The whole Italian team stayed overnight in Capodistria (Kopar) and tried to get a provisional document the next day which was unfortunately not possible. The director and one member of the team then returned home and the other two teachers were transferred to Poreč. Sometimes, getting accustomed to easy travelling can get treacherous.
Nevertheless, the seminar began on Thursday morning with most of the registered participants having arrived, in the conference room of the Poreč hotel school. After the almost compulsory technical problems, solved with the help of the AEHT President, the first Conference speaker, Denis IVOSEVIC, presented the history and the evolution of the Istrian Truffle.
Mr IVOSEVIC made a very interesting presentation, in perfect English, on the way Croatia started 10 years earlier to develop a project for marketing the Istrian Truffle and organize its collecting. It was interesting to hear that before that time, almost all the Truffles, especially the white one, were collected by local people and sold to Italy. Nobody really new the value of this noble mushroom and the collecting was going uncontrolled.
By inviting for years international experts for Truffles, sending people to training to Italy and France, and asking well known Chefs to come to Istria to teach to the local Restaurant how to use the Truffles in Gastronomy, a local Truffle industry developed quickly. Associations like Bio-Istria came up to encourage ecological agriculture and preserve the main artery of the Istrian peninsula, the Mirna river with its fertile and productive valley.
While in 1999, the Istrian White Truffle was tree time less in price than its rivals from Alba (Italy), it matches now the Italian Truffle in quality and in price. Some say even that the Croatian one is the best…
It was Vlasta RADOIČIĆ, General Secretary of Bio-Istria who made the second presentation. Again it took some time to solve the technical problems and it was a pity that she did her Power-point show and lecture in Croatian. Thus "personal translators" had to be mobilized to give a translation into English and French to those who didn't understand.
The presentation of Mrs RADOIČIĆ was also very interesting. It was mainly about the properties and the use of the Istrian Truffles. Under the Maria-Theresa reign in the 18th century, when Croatia was under Austrian rule, Istrian truffles were already a well appreciated product. It was especially estimated for its aphrodisiac properties and the fact that it improved life quality, aroused happiness and prolonged life. Today other medicinal qualities have been proved:
- lowering the cholesterol level;
- improving the cardio-vascular system;
- having a lot of vitamin B2 in the form of riboflavin and beta-glucan;
- having a lot of oligo-mineral elements;
So it seems now that the Tuber Magnato Pico is a precious medicament and should be refunded by the health insurance.
Hunting the white truffles is done in Croatia with dogs, all kind of dogs. But the best are the female ones.
After these conferences it was time to go to lunch, and this was the first practical tasting of White truffles. Our colleagues from the Poreč had prepared an excellent lunch, as well in the taste than in the presentation, served with delicious white wines from the region. The rest of the afternoon was reserved for some sightseeing.
For the next day, Vesna BARANASIC had programmed an outdoor workshop beginning with a visit of the "Tartufi ZIGANTE", the only Enterprise in Istria to buy up the collected truffles, process them for conservation and transform them to various Gastronomy products. After the visit the trip went on to Motovun, probably the most beautiful medieval town in Istria and situated on a hill 270 meters above sea level. The city gate dates from the 15th century, with houses scattered all over the hill. It is a typical example of Venetian colonial architecture. On the inner walls are several coats-of-arms of different Motovun ruling families and two gravestones of Roman inhabitants (dating from the 1st century). The city wall dates from the 12-13th century.
After the visit of the city, lunch was served at the Hotel Kaštel, located in a palace from the 17th century. The authentic Istrian cuisine offered, along with a number of original truffles from the Motovun forest as the pinnacle of gastronomic offering, combined with top class Istrian wine was the right preparation of the seminar participants for the afternoon where Truffle hunting was on the programme.
In the dense holm oak forest next to the River Mirna, we were awaited by a professional truffle hunter, together with his three hunting dogs and got a demonstration of the sensitive nose of the dogs, finding quickly the right places and starting to dig out the "Wonder of the nature", as Egyptians called the White truffles. All of us were very impressed by this rather quick discovery of 4 Tuber Magnato Pico, but in reality, it is not as easy as presented to us. Our white Truffle hunt had been set up for demonstration purpose, as the dogs are normally prepared days in advance for their work and the presence of foreigners is not accepted for security. Nevertheless, it gave us a good overview of the hard work of these hunters, which rely often on good luck, to find the right place and will not find more than one to 1.5 kg of White truffle in the whole season. Interesting to know that "Tartufi ZIGANTE" is processing 90 % of the Croatian White truffle production, which amounts to +/- 700 kg per year while the whole Truffle production, white and black, is approximately 3 500 kg per year. The outdoor workshop ended in the Zigante shop in Livade where everybody could do some shopping to bring home a proof of his more than interesting experience.
The participants of Croatia and Slovenia left for home in the evening and after dinner in the Hotel Parentium in Plava Laguna, the remaining group was invited to a local Wine-bar for a tasting of the Croation White wines, thus closing in due form an interesting seminar.
Seminar on an outstanding Gastronomy product;
Excellent overview of the Croatian White truffle for the participants;
High class White truffles lunch in the Poreč School, associated with excellent wines;
Warm welcome and perfect caretaking by the organizer;
warm-hearted atmosphere during all the seminar.
Good relation with the Weather Gods.
Too many technical problems.
Too much Croatian language.