The white truffle in Istria
A Living History
For almost three thousand years, truffles have delighted the fortunate few. The ancient Sumerians, Greeks, and Romans knew this culinary treasure. Pope Gregory IV boosted his mettle with a meal of truffles before battling the Saracens. In the Middle Ages, tartufo was known as witches' fare. At the royal court of Turin in the 1700s, truffle hunts were organized to honor visiting dignitaries. Lord Byron kept the precious fungus on his desk to stimulate the imagination.
Truffles still delight the crowned heads of the world, but the new royalty is no less enchanted. Ever since 1949, when Giacomo Morra, restauranteur from Alba, made a gift of the best truffle found that year to Rita Hayworth, the tradition has continued... Winston Churchill, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Pope John Paul II, Valentino are among those who have accepted the delectable honor.
The white truffle, tuber magnatum pico by its Latin species name, grows spontaneously in the rich clay soil in the hilly region of the Monferrato in Northern Italy and Istria.
The grey clay soil of central Istria, the humid and shady Motovun woods near the river Mirna, and a mild climate without any significant temperature oscillations provide ideal conditions for a very delicate fruit of Tuber Magnatum Pico, better known as the white truffle, the biggest and the most respected of all truffles.The tartufo bianco (white truffle) is the most prestigious of the underground mushrooms and is referred to as "the white diamonds of the Piedmont." It is the creme de la creme of the underground tubers, more delicate and prized than the black truffle. Because of its organic composition, superior aroma, and scarcity, it is also the most expensive, selling at approximately $1300 a pound in the Northern Italian markets.
In Istria the truffles have been extracted since ancient times, and even Roman Emperors and Austrian-Hungarian aristocrats knew about it and consumed it because of its outstanding taste as well as because of aphrodisiac characteristic attributed to it. In Istria, beside the white truffle, Tuber Magnatum Pico, it is possible to find three other sorts of black truffles - Tuber Aestivum Vitt, Tuber uncinatum, Tuber melanosporum - which are less respected then their white relative.
Mr. Giancarlo Zigante found the record-breaking truffle with the help of his dog Diana near the village Livade on November 2nd 1999. This white truffle weighed exactly 1,310 kg.
The Zigante family decided not to sell this truffle, which was named Millennium, but to prepare a dinner for 100 guests with it as a main dish with a goal to promote truffles and the Istrian region. To convince all future guests of the size of the "big white truffle", Mr. Zigante had the famous truffle cast in bronze.
In 1990, the Zigante family decided to get involved in the sale and processing of truffles. They opened up a specialized truffle and truffle-based products shop in Livade, Istria, in the heart of a hundre-year-old Istrian forest in the Mirna valley and where the record-breaking truffle was found. The unique bronze replica of the world's largest truffle is on exhibit in the store.
In 1991, the family's business, CEA Trade Ltd., opened additional stores in Pula and Buzet. It is the only company that purchases, processes and cans truffles and places them at the home and foreign market as a product coming from Istria, Croatia and with a quality seal of the Zigante truffles.
"Certainly this is not the end but the beginning of a new nice story with the final goal in recognition of our region as the first truffle destination in the world." - assures Mr.Zigante. The family business now has it's own internet site: Zigante Tartufi (http://www.zigantetartufi.com/) where information and an online order for this wonderful delicacy can be found.
Created: Wednesday, January
09, 2002; Last Updated:
Wednesday, September 14, 2016