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Truffles change the fortunes of Istrian peninsula

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-11-17 08:12

In the center of the Istrian peninsula, there is a forest known for its "black diamonds", that make this region the truffle capital of the world.

The unique fragrance of the "royal mushroom" was known to the Mesopotamian rulers 4,000 years ago. It was enjoyed by ancient Greeks and Roman emperors and today, truffles are still among the most highly-prized gourmet specialties.

Known to the French as the "black diamonds of gastronomy", Truffles grow under the ground in symbiosis with tree roots, and are therefore very difficult to find. They are rare and grow only in a few locations in Europe-in parts of Italy, France, Spain and Croatia.

Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula whose biggest portion lies within Croatia, is home to white and black truffles.

In late autumn, at the top of the season for white truffles, the Istrian forests are full of trained dogs running, sniffing and searching for the rare mushroom. When the dogs smell truffles and excitedly start digging, the truffle hunters rein-in the animals and dig the truffles out with a dagger-shaped trowel.

Ivica Kalcic has been a truffle hunter for almost 15 years. He has two English cocker spaniels that help him in the hunt. The older dog is trained and is always successful in finding truffles. For the younger one, this is just the first semester at school.

But one day it will be as useful as its mother. "We always go on the hunt with dogs. One is sniffing and searching for truffles, while the other is there to learn the process," Kalcic says.

In the olden days, pigs were used instead of dogs for truffle hunting. But this tradition is now died out-pigs like truffles so much they usually eat them on the spot.

During truffle season, Kalcic takes visitors to the forest to show them a truffle hunt. It is one of the most scenic tourist attractions in central Istria.

Visitors from around the world go there to experience a truffle hunt and then taste the gourmet specialties. It is an organized and well-directed attraction where hunters hide truffles under the ground beforehand for the dogs. And in just 20 minutes, dogs bark and dig when they find a white truffle.

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