Monday, December 19, 2011

Croatia Part 6: Istria--Truffles, Olive Oil, Prosciutto & Wine!

I think this post alone could be broken into 4 parts for the four corners of Istrian gastronomy-- Truffles, Olive Oil, Prosciutto and Wine--but I’m serving it all up in one big delicious page. So go grab a glass of Croatian wine if you have some and take a quick visit to Istria right now.

As we made our way north and inland, the landscape changed from arid to lush, from coastal to mountains, valleys and vineyards.  And the food was veering off from the gifts of the sea and towards the wonders of the woodlands and forests. Pork and swine and pigs and boars and prosciutto and...oh, did I mention pork? There were truffles too-- the MSG of the tuber family--they enhance the flavor of everything they come in contact with, but they’re not eaten on their own. I guess most people seek them out for their aphrodisiac properties as much as for flavor. (Is that correct Mattie?)

The two hotels we stayed in could not be more different. One ultra modern, and the other, an elegant boutique with a chic but cozy feeling. I'll tell you more about that later in the post--But first the Food!!


Our first stop in Istria was in Vodnjan where we met Mr. Milan Bursic, of Kod Milana Prosciutto, and toured his facility. Next to the curing facility the family restaurant Stancija Bursic, offers traditional dishes and of course the main attraction—prosciutto.

We tried a shot of something called biska that I think was mistletoe brandy. They also make an olive-liquor that I don’t recall trying but if I did, I need to go back and try it again!

In addition to a plate layered with succulent prosciutto, we had a stew called zgvacet and a platter of home made sausages with a rolled, tube like pasta called makaruni. After hours in the van with nothing more than Paprika chips this meal was consumed with gusto and it’s simplicity fully appreciated. 

We certainly ate well in Istria-- from ultra truffle gourmet to simple rustic fare, and in every instance was wonderful.  

Olive Oil

If olive oil can be “designed” then Chiavalon has the blueprint. Details are important here. Everything has been considered and chosen to support and enhance Chiavalon’s products. The tasting room, the bottles and packaging, even the logo and website.

Chiavalon began after Sandi Chiavalon became enthralled with agriculture at a very young age and then convinced the family to begin producing olive oil focusing on best possible production practices as a differentiator.

Since that time Chiavalon under the Ex Albis label has gone on to win numerous awards and accolades and was certified best in the world three times. The packaging too has won awards for it’s innovative design.

Several varieties of olives are grown and each is harvested by type and then blended like wine to achieve the superior taste and quality and although some characteristics are consistent from year to year each vintage is different.  We sampled the oils in a tasting with Tedi Chiavalon who showed us how to warm the oil in the special glasses and allow the aromas to open. The scents ranged from fresh cut green grass and tomato, to almonds.

Olive season was in full swing and after our tasting we took a short ride to the mill where we saw the hustle of the harvest first hand and got to sample seconds old olive oil fresh from the press.


The Franc Arman winery sits on 20 acres in the middle-inland section of Istria, in Vižinada, near the town of Narduči. Before we went into the cellar Oliver Arman pointed out the three distinct soils of their vineyards. We could clearly see the red, white and brown soils each with properties best suited to the grapes they grow. The area receives very little rainfall and the vineyards are dry farmed. 

After we toured the cellar and tank room we settled into Olivers office—the tasting room. Oliver sat down with us as we tasted a few of the wines including the indigenous varietals Malvazija and Teran. Oh what lovelies they were. The Malvazija was the epitome of fresh and crisp, with a pale green-yellow color. It had a scent of citrus and grapefruit and a slight apple-vanilla and white nectarine flavor that was very refreshing.

The Teran Barrique is harvested selectively for the best clusters and aged 12 months in oak “barrique” barrels. I must admit since learning about the wines of Croatia I’ve become a big Teran fan. I really love this wine-- it’s deep color and full body belies its relatively low ABV of 13%.  The 2008 Teran Barrique had a beautiful nose of rose buds and berries with medium tannins. Bring on the prosciutto and cheese! I bought a bottle on the spot knowing it would be next to impossible to find it in the states.

The Franc Arman wines are not only great food wines, but seem well suited for just hanging out with friends too. In fact Oliver’s car is inscribed with the phrase—“It’s not just a wine, it’s a lifestyle.” -- and he seems to be exemplifying that quite well.


Livade is world famous for it’s truffles and truffle oils and of course the world’s largest truffle that started it all found by Mr. Giancarlo Zignate. Zigante, his famous truffle restaurant is open year round, and during festival times you can stroll the market stalls, listen to folk music, watch a truffle hunting demo with truffle hunting dogs, and shop for truffle related merchandise. Livade is the Disney World of Truffles.

At the restaurant we feasted on truffle oils and truffle dishes such as Pasta with truffles, Duck breast with a port wine sauce, and a very creamy desert with black truffles. I actually found the ice cream and black truffles too intense for my palate. I think a bit of the truffle oil on the ice cream might have been a better pairing, but no one was asking me for menu suggestions in truffle land.  

The wines paired with each course were well matched and I especially liked the second wine-- a Gambaletto 2008 Teran. It was peppery and bright and contrasted well with the truffle overload.   

Rojvin - Hotel Lone

Honestly,  Hotel Lone is so modern, I thought we were at the airport when we first arrived. Inside it had the feel of an art gallery with an open atrium and a huge hanging installation, that when viewed from above, looked a lot like the spun sugar glass top on the lamb fillet we were served at the Bibich tasting --note the similarities in the photos above.

The Lone design is very distinct and the rooms were ultra sleek and modern. I think Steve Jobs would love it here with its attention to every detail and the design concept well integrated into every aspect of the building from the note pads to the light switches.  Fun touches like the graffiti tables in the lobby keep it from feeling pretentious. But at times I did I feel like I was in the docking station for an international space station like something out of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 a Space Odyssey. 

One puzzling thing I found was the hotel logo. If the intent was to have people stare at it for hours and contemplate it's meaning then objective achieved. I could not determine if it was an abstract image of a angel or an airplane or the left ventricle of the heart. Was it an aorta or a vertebrae? I don't know. You'll have to determine that for yourself.

"Tonight we will songify"
Dinner at Hotel Lone

Dinner at Hotel Lone was terrific and each dish more intriguing than the next. I was happy to see the Grimalda 2008, an Istrian white wine blend of three varieties – Chardonnay, Istrian Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc, paired with the the monk fish carpaccio. Mmmmm.

Buzet - Vela Vrata Hotel

Vela Vrata feels luxurious but on a very personal scale. This is the place to relax and enjoy the leisurely pace and be pampered with creature comforts.  Every room is different and it's truly like you are staying in a grand private home. Soon Vela Vrata will have a pool and new restaurant area adjacent to the pool and the comfortably snug dining room will transition into a lounge and bar space.

Delights from the Vela Vrata dining room

Of course we did not spend nearly enough time in Istira --but it's on the top of my list of places I will return to very soon.


  1. Great post. Love your photos and descriptions of Istria food, wine and hotels. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've been enjoying all your posts on Croatia, thankyou. I've always wanted to explore the Istrian peninsular and you've inspired me to do so next year. Can't wait!

  3. @sebasilver-- Gald you enjoyed it, thanks for stopping by and following the series.

  4. Hey Jenny-- Glad to be of some inspriation for you to visit Croatia. It's so much more than I can even begin to cover in this blog. You will love it there. --Cheers



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