Man in suit juggles large white truffles

The singular aroma of culinary success

Sniffing out the truffle capital of the world on a Croatian road trip

In an idyllic corner of the beautiful Istrian peninsula a very special food can be found growing wild in its forests. Visit the place where the white truffle is king
A chance discovery that created a legendWhen Giancarlo Zigante took his dog Diana hunting on 2 November 1999, little did he know that their lives were about to change. Snuffling about in the beautiful autumnal countryside of Croatia’s northern Istrian peninsula, just a few kilometres south of the Slovenian border and less than an hour’s drive from Trieste, Italy, Diana found a beautiful, edible jewel. 
What Giancarlo’s dog had sniffed out was a white truffle, albeit a very special one. Weighing in at 1.3kg, it was the largest of its kind in the world at the time. This special find would be the catalyst for establishing the countryside around the Istrian village of Livade as a world centre for truffle hunting. 
Rustic entrance to restaurant in Livade
The elegant Restaurant Zigante in Livade, Croatia – a temple to the white truffle Restaurant Zigante

Today, over two decades later, we are sat in the now legendary Restaurant Zigante, in the heart of Livade, enjoying an exclusive menu devised for the Porsche Travel Experience. There are many variations of truffle on the menu here. But it is always the aroma you notice first, when the truffle is freshly grated over your dish – served wafer thin, of course. The aroma is highly distinctive, potent even. Is it reminiscent of honey? Mushrooms maybe? Or garlic? Or a mix of all of them? In truth, there is no comparable smell. Its taste, in contrast, is mild. Less like a flavour storm, more like a fleeting, gentle breeze.

A smell made in food heavenUnlike the black truffle, the white truffle is defined 80 per cent by its aroma and just 20 per cent by its taste. We will remember its gorgeous smell on our home-made tagliatelle and sprinkled atop a bowl of captivatingly scented ice cream on our journey home… and way beyond. 
White truffle shaved over bowl of ice cream
Tour participants experience the unique qualities of the precious truffle
The hunt for Istria’s white, aromatic jewelsThe area around the village of Livade provides the perfect environment for the rare truffle. They lie hidden deep in the earth amid the dense oak forests of Motovun, north Istria. The earth is almost black here, full of rich mineral content. It’s combined with a continental climate that is just right, creating the optimum conditions for these glorious tubers to flourish. 
A group of people gather in a thicket of trees
Deep in an Istrian forest, we join a truffle hunter and his dog on the search for hidden treasure

The truffles themselves are hidden from view, jewels to be discovered – only experienced truffle hunters and their highly-trained dogs have the necessary skill to root out these precious subterranean fungi.

Two small brown dogs next to man in wellington boots
These dogs are accomplished truffle finders. Their training can take up to four years

Before enjoying this speciality on our plates, we earlier headed to a forest close to Restaurant Zigante, accompanying one of the local truffle hunters, his trusty dog following in his wake. The forest has a mystical feel to it. It even smells different. We make our way slowly through the thicket, the dog leading the way. He stops and sniffs at the foot of a tree, pawing a hole in the ground, and then sniffs again. It’s impossible, we soon learn, to tell the best ground for truffles just by looking. Smell is everything. And that’s why you need the help of an expert four-legged friend.

Dog sniffs ground which man has dug up with trowel
Dogs are used in Istria to find truffles thanks to their keen sense of smell

That truffle hunter extraordinaire, Giancarlo Zigante himself, began training his dog to find this much-lauded fungi back in 1973 – over a quarter of a century before the landmark find that bagged him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Round here, they say that dogs have one big advantage over the truffle pigs still used in some other parts of the world – after sniffing out a large fungus, a 15kg dog is much easier to push out of the way to retrieve the find than a 200kg porker.

Unlike other forms of truffle, the white truffle is the only variety that cannot be cultivated. For this, we remain at the mercy of the caprices of nature – of a combination of luck and the skill of the truffle-hunting dogs. In many ways, to an establishment like Restaurant Zigante, these talented hounds are every bit as important to their prosperity as the fishermen of the Adriatic and the beef farmers of Istria. The keen-nosed hunters of Livade’s legendary white jewels.
This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.

Winding roads and culinary pleasure

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