The woods around Motovun and Buzet are one of Europe’s prime hunting grounds for the truffle (tartuf), a subterranean fungus whose delicate taste – part nutty, part mushroomy, part sweaty sock – have made it a highly prized delicacy among the foodie fraternity. Truffles, which look like small tubers, tend to overpower whatever other ingredients they’re mixed with, and so are used very sparingly in cooking – either grated over a freshly cooked dish, or used in a sauce to give a defining flavour.
The truffle-hunting season begins in late September and carries on through the autumn, with locals and their specially trained dogs heading off into the Istrian fog to sniff out the fungus. During this period most of the region’s restaurants will have at least one truffle-based recipe on the menu, even if only a simple truffle-and-pasta dish or a truffle fritaja (omelette). Truffle dishes offered outside this period will most probably use preserved (rather than fresh) truffles – definitely worth trying, but not quite as mouthwatering as the just-unearthed variety.
To mark the start of the season, Truffle Days (Dani Tartufa) are organized in various places in the Motovun/Buzet region from mid-September until early November; these might involve truffle-tasting events, live music or just lots of good-natured drinking. Best known of these fungus-fixated fiestas is the Buzetska Subotina (“Buzet Saturday”), when an enormous truffle omelette is fried up on the main square and then scoffed by an army of hungry celebrants (see Regional Museum).