Truffle Hunting with Visnja

One of our most popular experiences that we love to include in our tailormade Croatia itineraries is a truffle hunting experience in Istria. This heart-shaped peninsula is the largest in the Adriatic Sea and lies to the north of Dalmatia.

The area has beautiful seaside towns and is covered with dense, peaceful forests inland which is where truffles, the luxury cousins to mushrooms, are found.  Contrary to popular belief, truffles are not hunted by pigs, but with highly trained dogs. Visnja’s family have perfected their trade over three generations. She tells us about the family history, the dogs and why her family’s property is top trumps for truffles.

Mel the Truffle Hunter
Visnja and Mel

1. How long has your family been in Truffles for?

My brother and I are now the third generation. The whole thing started with my grandparents, my mother’s parents, a long time ago. When my mother was a little girl, she would hunt truffles with her two sisters and her parents. It’s something which has stayed with our family up until today. Me and my brother are doing the same thing.

2. Tell us about Pico & Mel.

So Pico and Mel are two of our four dogs. All four of them are brothers from the same mum. So we have Pico and Mel, then we have Steve and Broom. They always work in teams of two dogs together. When we go out they always go together and they always look for truffles together. If you take one dog, he is never as focused as if you take two. It’s best if there’s a little competition between the two brothers. So Pico and Mel are little team.

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3. Describe what the truffle hunting experience involves.

When the guests arrive at the property here on our land, we welcome them with some homemade brandy which my dad makes. Then I tell them our story about truffles, how everything started in our family, some important facts about truffles, like different types, how they grow, how the reproduce and how we train the dogs.

Then we take two dogs and we go into the woods which is on our family land, just a few minutes’ walk from our house. We check multiple positions whilst we walk and we spend 10 or 15 minutes in each spot until the dog has checked all the points. Our walk usually takes half an hour or 45 minutes depending on the weather and what mood the dogs are in! Then we come back with the truffles that we found, if we are lucky! But usually we do find some. Then we wash the truffles and prepare a meal for our guests.

Truffle products
Truffles in Istria

4. Why do truffles grow so well in your area?

Whenever we go out, we go on our own land. Only our family are allowed to hunt truffles here. So this means there is a much better chance of finding something because fewer people are hunting in the area.

If you don’t have your own land, you can go in the public woods which is owned by the government. You need to get a license and finish some exams, then the government will allow you to look for truffles.

Specifically here on our land, we have a micro-climate; it’s very hot and we get a lot of rain. The woods we have here are made up of a mix of trees like oak, beech and hazelnut which are the most common for truffles to grow near. And wherever there are truffles here in Istria, they are always near the Mirna River. The river is a few minutes away from our house and runs through the valley. All the water from the nearby mountains collects in the river too so the woods here have rich and moist soil which is ideal for growing truffles.

It barely ever snows here, though it does in other parts of Croatia. It might snow once in every six or seven years but then the snow will never stick because of our warm micro-climate. This is good because if the ground freezes, then the truffles rot.

Also the woods where the truffles grow are completely unpolluted ground. It’s completely untouched by humans. It’s purely natural woods which is rich with wildlife. The wild animals are very important for the production of truffles.

5. Where do you sell your truffles?

So in our business we have truffles products that we sell in jars, like pestos, spreads, oils, cheese and salami which we sell to our distributors all over the world which then supply the shops in their regions, including deli shops, supermarkets and specialist stores.

Besides the products we have the fresh truffles which we ship all over the world and sometimes directly to the restaurants, but mostly to the distributors. They might take 5 to 10 kilos and they’ll dispatch to each restaurant. So we ship to Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and many more places. We mostly export outside of Europe. Especially the white truffles, because they are rarer.

6. What is the biggest truffle you have found?

Well, mine was not that big. It was about 180g. But my parents have found much larger ones through the years. But basically it’s just luck and how good your dog is of course. Your dog has to be really well trained. You have to be really patient. Patience is the key. If you are not patient with your dog and you quit quickly, then you will not be a lucky truffle hunter.

Would you like to hunt truffles in Croatia with Visnja, Pico & Mel? Give our Croatia travel experts a call to plan an exciting and unique itinerary. Contact us >>

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