Ah, Croatia. It’s a land full of history – from Renaissance architecture to medieval hill towns, cascading waterfalls to primordial forests, it’s the undisputed jewel in the crown of the Adriatic coast. While the idyllic, sweeping views of Croatia have made it famous, however, their produce is equally buzz-worthy.
Belle and Zoran, a Korean-American and Croatian couple living in Singapore, have made it their mission to share the joys of Adriatic produce via their online site, The Adriatic Pantry. Their ethos is three-fold: they only market locally-sourced ingredients from Croatia, farmed and made by family-owned producers they know personally, whose products have made waves on the international gourmet food scene. The couple returns to Croatia an average of four times a year, often to link up with the family-producers who supply them with products.
It was on a balmy Friday afternoon that Belle welcomed us into her lovely home to share some of The Adriatic Pantry’s best-selling products with us.
Fresh Istrian Black Summer Truffles, $47.50 for 3-4 servings
Towards the Croatian hinterland, one will discover numerous family-owned estates keeping their traditions alive: hand-picking grapes, fresh-pressing olives for their oil, and truffle-hunting with specially-trained dogs. The Adriatic Pantry sources their truffles from the Karlić family, third-generation truffle hunters from Istria (you can even visit them for a truffle hunt with their dogs!). We know that truffle is all the rage these days, with truffle fries, truffle pasta, truffle brownies…the list goes on. The one thing most commercial “truffle” products have in common is that the product usually doesn’t even contain the real thing. It’s basically counterfeit truffle, with a hint of the real truffle’s delicious muskiness but only a measly percentage of its taste. The proliferation of these products are in large part due to the expensive nature of real truffles. Before Belle showed them to me, I’ve never been up close and personal with one before.
So what do real truffles taste like? Like edible gold, basically. There is a subtle garlic flavour with an underlying nuttiness and a damp, earthy aroma that is nothing short of intoxicating. The truffle shavings transformed simple bread into a gourmet dish, and there is no doubt it can do the same when added into pasta, risotto or omelettes. They’re easy to use, and the best way to impress friends or family if you’re hosting a dinner party. Otherwise, keep this treasure for yourself to savour over a week. After a taste of real truffle, you’ll never be satisfied with any of that counterfeit truffle oil they drizzle over your fries ever again.
This gourmet spread is the pocket-friendly version of the above. Also produced by the Karlić family, this delightful spread is produced by combining black summer truffles with countryside mushrooms, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. When Belle served them to us, she had them blended with cream cheese and served on baguette slices. This simple creation has been sold at The Adriatic Pantry’s Epicurean Market showing for the past two years, and they’re sold out almost as soon as they’re made. It’s not difficult to understand why, given how delicious the spread is. You can dole this out over meats and fish, blend it into your mash potatoes or dips, garnish your steamed vegetables with it…it’s versatile and won’t burn a hole in your pocket – like the Bib Gourmand version of truffles.
Organic Fig Jam, $22
Figs are a personal favourite of mine. I eat them as a snack, but I’ve never had any as tasty as the ones stocked by The Adriatic Pantry. Fleshy and ripe with pulp, these figs are grown by the Ostojić family, third-generation fig growers with a 300-tree farm northwest of Dubrovnik. They make an organic fig jam that is 96% organic figs, 3% sugar and 1% citrus. All in all, 100% amazing stuff.
It has the honey-sweetness of figs, and tastes slightly similar to berry jams but without the artificial saccharine quality. The grainy pulp gives it a good mouthfeel and texture. Like your common jams, you can use this on toast or bread, mix it in with yoghurt or oatmeal, or spread it on a good cheese (like the ones below). More uses include topping your deserts with it, baking it into bars, serving it on the side with meat (like cranberry sauce and turkey). If you’ve run out of ideas, eat it on its own – it’s that good.
The Adriatic Pantry also stocks Ostojić’s Organic Fig Cake ($18), a mix of dried organic figs, almonds, lemon, orange and a pinch of pepper. Its recommended pairing is with cheeses. If you’re shopping at gourmet grocer Taste, you’ll find this fig cake near their cheese room.
Off the west coast of Croatia, Pag Island is full of pebble and sand beaches. It’s a rather barren island, but interestingly, has pastures full of sage for its sheep to graze on. The highly aromatic properties of sage are then transferred into the award-winning Pag cheese. The cheese is produced by Paška Sirana, the Pag Cheese Co-op, which has been uniting sheep herding families on the island for seven decades, and their cheese has been crowned at several global awards for being the best sheep cheese available. Two types of Pag cheese are available for sale at The Adriatic Pantry. The first is a young Pag cheese, aged six months. It is milder than the old version, has a sharp, salty taste, and goes well with fig jam, chutneys and charcuterie.
The XO Pag Cheese is aged for 18 months, hard in texture and goes well with smoked ham. We ate them with Croatian prosciutto, which is smoked, unlike its Italian counterparts; and Slavonian Kulen, a gourmet cured pork sausage with a spicy kick. The cheeses can be enjoyed alone, cut into triangles, or grated over pastas in replacement of mozzarella and parmesan.