A Life in Travel

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Digging for Gastronomic Gold in Istria, Croatia


Commonly referred to as the "Tuscany of Croatia", the remote Istrian Peninsula (across the Adriatic from Italy) is the perfect place for a Croatian culinary adventure. Once chosen by ancient Romans as the most important territory in the empire for wine and olive oil production, Istria is now a hub of adventure activities. Cycle back roads and hike up cobblestone streets to hilltop castles and Medieval villages, and make sure to end up in a local tasting room or a cozy kitchen. Winemakers, farmers, and restauranteurs reflect a diverse centuries-old blend of cultures including waves of Turks, Venetians, Austrians, French and Hungarians influencing the modern Croatian kitchen.  Driving through the Istrian Peninsula with a gourmet guide who knows their way around, make your way to stay in rural boutique accommodations and enjoy farmhouse restaurants featuring acclaimed gastronomy including seafood, white truffles, wild asparagus, olive oils and award-winning wines. Below are a few of my favorite foodie experiences in the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia. 

In the small village of Štancija Kumparička near the town of Pula, is a 14th Century family homestead resurrected by Ale and Sasha, husband and wife, lawyer and psychologist, who abandoned the big city of Zabgreb to share a better life with their daughter, puppies, and 250 goats. Grazing on 200 hectares of natural pastures full of aromatic herbs, the goats produce enough milk to supply regional restaurants, such as the nearby Stancija Meneghetti Wine Hotel in the village of Bale, with racks of goat cheese truckles aged in harmony with nature, respecting the true essence of Istrian cheesemaking. We visited late morning so we could enjoy a farmhouse lunch under the blue sky, dining on old wooden tables, sharing a hearty family recipie tomato-based bean soup, fresh-baked rounds of traditional bread, mixed goat cheese trays, and luscious wines of the region.  

A short drive to the coast, the enchanting seaside Venetian town of Rovinj is a perfect base to enjoy the sea and to explore the picturesque hill towns of Grožnjan and Motovun. Among the fortified settlements rebuilt in the Middle Ages and strengthened by Austrian and Venetian expansion, agrotourism thrives and local kitchens open their doors to share the techniques and talents of traditional Istrian cuisine. On the edge of a small village, hostess Davorka i Vjeran Saina and her family, including her lazy Newfoundland Ole, invited us into her kitchen at her award-winning Katun Lindarski Agrotourism Ograde to make Štruclji pasta with cheese, flour and eggs and an apple strudel desert. 

One of the most delicious and entertaining agrotourism experiences was truffle hunting with the Karlić family in the forests around the village of Paladini, near Buzet in the hills above the Adriatic coast. Here they train their enthusiastically eager dogs to track down the otherwise elusive black and white truffles hidden under the surface of the soil. The tuberous fungus is a buried treasure of Istria and to watch the dogs work is a comedic but serious economic endeavor for local truffle hunters. Accompanied by their lead trainer, the dogs work in pairs sniffing out the tuberous gold of gastronomy. But you better get there as soon as they do because otherwise there's no stopping them from digging it up and eating all the profits. So, we walked and we watched them carefully, and as soon as they got the scent we ran to stick by their side and held them back as we probed down to dig up the tuber before they did. We returned to the family home where the fresh truffles were grated and prepared with fresh eggs or pasta topped with local fresh cheese.  

To learn more about the wine and culinary adventures of Croatia see our Croatian Culinary Adventure: Taste of Istria or contact Sherry Howland, our expert Balkan Region Program Director. 

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