Photo by: Petar Fabijan

THE KARLIĆ FAMILY – TRUFFLE HUNTERS

The oldest trufflers in Istria

The Karlić family from Istria have been truffling for sixty years; today, tourists from all over the world join them in their Istrian truffle hunting. They were the first in the region to plant an oak tree nursery to cultivate black truffles.

The Istrian village of Paladini, near Buzet, has a population of only 43 people and – several hundred dogs. There isn’t a family that doesn’t hunt for truffles. The best-known trufflers in this truffle-hunting village are the Karlić family, who have been hunting for truffles for sixty years. Radmila Karlić’s father, Ivan Rašpolić, started the tradition. “It was in the early 1960s when some Italians came here, looking for ‘smelly’ mushrooms; they said they smelled like garlic. The locals had no idea what they were talking about. That’s when dad got our first pointing dog and started truffling,” says Radmila, putting on her hiking boots and getting ready to go to the forest. She’s taking four foreigners on the hunt with her, a couple from Singapore and a couple from Texas. They, just like an ever increasing number of Japanese and Korean people and enthusiasts from Hong Kong, have come here on recommendation.

It’s been a long way from the first pointing dog bought by her father for truffle hunting to the present moment, when the Karlić family has six Lagotto Romagnolo dogs and five or six other well trained four-legged hunters. Out of Radmila’s father’s sporadic truffle hunting, the family has created an internationally recognisable brand today. The Karlić family hunt for, but also purchase, truffles in Istria and sell them, literally, all over the world. “We send parcels to all continents, we only haven’t had customers in Australia yet. We sell 60% of our truffles in Europe, mainly in Germany, France, Austria; people have started to recognise and really appreciate the Istrian truffle. We have a lot of customers in Singapore and Hong Kong; the market there is growing rapidly. We supply Michelin-starred restaurants in Southeast Asia.

It’s not just a job; with truffles, the Karlić family has also developed a philosophy of life. Today, they say, they aren’t afraid to try something new.

They were the first in Istria to plant a black truffle orchard. “The truffle is not a parasite; it grows in symbiosis with the tree, most commonly under the oak tree, but it can be found beneath the poplar, ash, hornbeam, pine or hazel as well. I like the scent of those found beneath oak trees the best.

Several decades ago, truffles were not part of the local culture; women in particular did not go searching for them. “When my dad first took me hunting with him, my mum strongly objected. She said it wasn’t something women should do, that it’s a man’s job. When my husband and I quit our jobs and decided to rely on truffle hunting as our only source of income, my parents were scared, distrustful, and kept repeating that it wouldn’t bring a regular salary, that it depended on natural conditions too much, because if they were unfavourable, there wouldn’t be anything to hunt for that year,” Radmila goes on.

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