Even in her early age, Danijela Puh knew what she will do for living. Having a career in medicine, fashion or entertainment wasn’t her thing. She continued the tradition of her parents, and together with her mother Anita, she is among the most successful truffle harvesters in Istria.
“Both my mother and father were avid in truffle seeking, and I gladly took their job, “ Danijela explains. “I was eagerly waiting to finish my education, so that I can venture the Istrian woods and begin my searches.”
The profession seems to be predestined for Danijela. As her mother was pregnant with her, she was searching for truffles when the contractions started. She was literally brought to hospital next to a basket of these highly-valued underground fungi.
The family lives in village of Soviscina, near Istrian town of Buzet. There is a truffle-processing facility onsite, belonging to firm Natura that sales over twenty products based on the fungi. These even include cheese, sausage and honey. Children love truffle chocolate, while the older ones thrill next to glasses of truffle-flavored beer.
“Hot weather brings the season of the so-called black summer truffle,” Danijela explains. It has a relatively mild taste, yet strong smell. And it can really make every dish special, thanks to its existent aroma.”
Being underground, truffles are hard to find. It is not like you can walk through the forest and find the one blooming under a tree. In order to acquire them, seekers have to rely on the help of trained dogs. “We only have females; they seem to be more hard-working than males. Also, the half-breed specimens seem to be more talented for this job than pure ones. For example, this is Biba. She is a very talented dog, and one of my favorite assistants,” Danijela noted, smiling to her canine colleague.
The best time to go truffle seeking is evening, as the forest is quiet, making the dogs more concentrated. When the fungus is ready to be harvested, it will release a strong scent. That doesn’t mean that dogs will immediately find it. Sometimes, it takes couple of hours for them to discover their underground goal.
Also, there are some rules that come with truffle hunting. Once the dogs dig up the hole and acquire the truffle, it is the seeker’s job to return the soil. This way, another truffle will emerge on its spot. It might be a difficult job, but to local people, it is a way of living.
“My mother is more than 50 years old, and sometimes spends an entire night in the forest, just seeking the fungi. As a girl, she financed her school necessities such as bag and notebooks by selling truffles. That is how much we are attached to this job,” Danijela explains. “It is run by love, and a way of the living to many local families.”
Truffles are also a vital part of Istrian tourist offer. In addition of being served in local restaurants, they are often a subject of organized lectures and workshops. People love to learn about this unique specialty, and how it is harvested. So if you are visiting Istria, consider joining Danijela and explore the riches of Croatia’s largest peninsula.