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Food & Drink

Slovenia’s black diamond

Lesser known than truffles from Spain, France or Italy, Slovenian truffles are harvested in the Istria region of Slovenia. A bountiful land that offers all the varieties appreciated by gourmets: white, summer, and winter black.

Fabio Bonavita

By Fabio Bonavita02 juin 2020

When we think of truffles, two regions immediately come to mind: Piedmont in Italy and Périgord in France. While these may remain the undisputed benchmarks for the glory of the truffle, Istria in Slovenia deserves to be added to the list. To the north of this peninsula in the Adriatic lie forests concealing gastronomic treasures that the uninitiated would never expect. The famous Istrian “black diamond” has been harvested here since the early 20th century. "Before then, the locals didn't know that they had been walking on truffles," laughs Aleksander, a local guide based in the port city of Koper. They had never even heard of the fabled fungi with the fabulous flavor. The Italians were the first to discover them in 1920." Several species grow here almost year-round. The black summer truffle is found under the roots of hazelnut trees, poplars, oaks, beech trees and pines. But at the edge of the forests, there is also a winter variant, which is harvested from September to January. The most highly prized, however, is the white truffle, which can command more than 3,000 euros per kilogram.

The region of Istria is the promised land for the Slovenian black diamond. (Pxhere)

An authentic experience

Our potato dumplings with truffle filling make a trip to Slovenia worthwhile.

Aleksander, Slovenian guide specialized in truffle hunting

To taste Slovenian truffles, just take a stroll down the picturesque streets of the capital Ljubljana or along the seafront of Piran, where plenty of restaurants attract visitors with their truffle aromas. Here, if you’re looking for a whole experience, you can also book one of the famous truffle hunts. These last about three hours and allow you to discover the family history of Istrian producers. Then comes the long-awaited moment when the truffle dogs lead the way through the woods in search of the treasures just below the surface of the soil. Thankfully, the hungry hiker’s walk ends at the table, with the tasting of various dishes generously sprinkled with local truffles. Aleksander isn’t stingy with his praise of their quality: "In Slovenia, the truffle trade is not out in the open. We don't know how much is harvested each year. But the aroma of the white or the black truffle from Istria are simply breathtaking. The ultimate truffle dish is Idrijski žlikrofi, potato dumplings with truffle filling. It’s a dish that makes your whole trip to Slovenia worthwhile."

Truffles are on the menu in many restaurants in Ljubljana. (Pxhere)

Market globalization

According to connoisseurs, the Istrian truffle is every bit as good as its Italian cousin from Alba. In fact, in a major exposé last year an American journalist even demonstrated that some truffles sold on the markets in Piedmont, the heart of Italy’s truffle country, actually came from Istria. But this may say less about the quality, and more about the decline in the truffle harvest of the three major European producers: Spain, France and Italy. In 2014, the total annual harvest of these “big three” truffle countries was 141 tons, but just two years later (the most recent figures available), the harvest was just 90 tons – a drop of around 40%. But today, the truffle market faces yet another competitor: China. While a hundred times cheaper, Chinese truffles have a much lower aromatic quality and they are generally processed with synthetic flavorings to add the famous truffle aroma.

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