Saturday, November 27

Experience: I found the largest truffle in the world | Life and Style

IIt was 2am when I left home that night in November 1999. I was heading to the Motovun forest in Istria, in northwestern Croatia, looking for truffles. Serious truffle hunting takes place at night; it is better for dogs, as the humidity carries the truffle smell better and is also more difficult to follow.

It was a frosty night, the temperatures at that time of year drop below freezing. Being a truffle hunter is not an easy job – the forest is often wet and muddy. It is often scratched and dirty, and may return empty-handed. Still, I had a feeling that the night would be good, so with Diana, my faithful German pointer, I left.

A truffle is an edible mushroom that grows underground, often in the roots of oak trees. A good hunter might see subtle signs of a truffle under the ground, but it depends on luck and of course a well-trained dog, which can indicate when you are in the right place.

In Istria, it is possible to find four types of truffles (one white and three black). But it is Tuber Magnatum Peak, a white truffle with pale yellow skin and acrid smell, which is the most precious and expensive. It’s hard to say how many are in our region in a normal year, because people don’t like to reveal when they do.

I started looking for truffles in the early 80’s, when I was still 20 years old. I was the first person in my family to make something with truffles. It started as a hobby, to supplement my income, and grew from there. I really connected with that. I used to be a toolmaker for the medical industry, but I fell in love with the truffle hunting lifestyle.

My place was the Motovun forest; I will never reveal the exact location. Because of the money that can be made from truffles, rivalries, sometimes deadly, have arisen: People have been shot in other countries and unscrupulous hunters have been known to deposit poison in forests. It can be a cutthroat business.

As soon as we arrived that night, Diana found some small truffles and I knew my hunch had been correct. When you hunt truffles, you lose track of time: it behaves differently. So I don’t know how long it was, maybe a few hours, before she indicated a new piece of land. I got down on my knees and started digging, down to about 20 cm. I could see that it was large, so I was careful not to damage it. It took 15 minutes to dig it up.

I had found some large truffles before, weighing around 500g, but this one was three times as large. As soon as I took it out of the ground, I went home, so as not to damage it.

I weighed the truffle right away and knew I had something special on my hands. It weighed 1,310 g. In the morning I spoke to Guinness World Records, who confirmed that it was the largest truffle ever recorded. I could have sold it for 1 million euros and made my fortune, but I knew instantly that I didn’t want to do that. It’s great to be rich, but I felt like the truffle could have more of an impact if it were shared. The truffle was found in Istria and should be consumed here, not sold to a wealthy person abroad.

I invited 200 people from Istria to a banquet, on me, and we ate it among ourselves. The night was very special; an amazing environment. Even the president of Croatia was there. Every white truffle tastes amazing, but this one was different.

My friends and family supported my decision. If I had sold it, it would never have had the same impact. He was like a hero in my community. It put Istrian white truffles on the food map. Three years after finding the truffle, I decided to open my own restaurant.

Now there is a bronze statue of the truffle in my restaurant in Livade, an Istrian town. It’s a great conversation starter – people think it’s a statue of a brain. They cannot imagine that a truffle is so big. In later years, I often thought of the truffle. It is my greatest professional achievement.

I rarely go out hunting truffles; I am 71 years old and it is hard physical work. I do it once in a while for old times. It’s still in my blood; It is a passion.

My truffle is no longer the largest ever found – the record was broken in the US in 2014. But that one, weighing in at 1,786g, was sold to the highest bidder, so for that reason, I think mine it is still the most famous.

As he told Sophie Haydock

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