What is a truffle?

These precious lumps were once considered food for gods and witches, but today most of them end up in gourmet delicacies for “ordinary mortals”

Zigante truffles

A precious underground fungus

Useful information

Truffles are a type of edible fungus  that grows underground, most commonly along the roots of trees such as oak, beech, poplar, willow and elm. They look like tubers and are often compared to potatoes because of their appearance.
They mostly grow from the size of a cherry to the size of an apple, but sometimes much larger specimens are found (such as the famous Zigante Millenium, which weighed 1,310 g). Two basic types are the most popular in gastronomy: black and white truffles.

Truffle hunters and dogs

Truffle hunting

Truffles grow all over Europe, Asia, North and South America, but their most important habitats can be found in France, Italy and Istria. The most famous truffle habitat in Croatia is the valley of the Mirna  river in Istria.

Truffles are picked only when they are ripe. Looking for truffles or the so-called hunt is led by an expert truffle hunter, and the truffles themselves are found by trained dogs with a perfected sense of smell. This used to be done by pigs, but today it is a rarity. Although pigs are very skilled at finding truffles, they often eat whatever they find.

As soon as the dog points to the location of a truffle by digging with its paw and receives a reward for good work, the truffle hunter will carefully dig out the fungus and make sure not to damage it. He will then reseal the excavated hole to allow new roots to develop or new truffles to grow. The truffles are then washedsorted and evaluated, taking into account their smell, size, shape and general impression. During the evaluation, we can also cut into the truffle to see its inside colour. Sorted and cleaned truffles are finally packed for transport.

A natural aphrodisiac

Gourmet fungi

Truffles can also be described as gourmet fungi because they have a tart, strong earthy smell that gives the food a unique taste. They are used in very small quantities, which are still enough to turn any dish into a gourmet experience. The aroma of truffles is not easy to describe, with associations that range from “forest floor” and “chocolate and earth mixture” to “old socks”, and there is an erotic component often attributed to them as well. Regardless of different descriptions, the demand for truffles is growing, so the price can jump up to several thousand euros per kilogram.

White Truffle - Tuber Magnatum Pico