Innovative products made from Vojvodina truffles – TRUFF TRUFF to conquer world market as well
To Sanja Melkus and Violeta Ivkovic, who met at a choir practice, the truffle story began slightly over nine years ago. The first findings of truffles in Serbia inspired these two friends from Vojvodina to combine their love of nature with their affinity for this delicacy.
After experimenting in their own kitchen, they decided to present their specialties to a wider public. In the autumn of 2017, they registered the small family company TRUFF TRUFF, and the first public promotion of their home truffle products took place at the second Night Market at the Fish Market in Novi Sad.
As Sanja Melkus, one of the owners of this Novi Sad-based company, says for eKapija, TRUFF TRUFF functions as a family and builds its brand on those foundations.
– In creating new flavors, we are always guided by our own personal opinions. What we like to eat is what's in the jars. These are primarily innovative products, meant for true gourmets, where we combine things that are related by nature. There are black truffles in hot oil marinade, orange with truffles, a mild sweet condiment for savory combinations – with cheeses, meat or vegetables... – Sanja highlights some of the 10 products they offer.
Black truffles with tahini or hummus, carpaccio with black truffles with spices, sea salt with pieces of truffle and extra-virgin olive oil with the natural black truffle aroma also need to be mentioned.
All these products, our interviewee emphasizes, are 100% natural.
– In the world of truffle manufacture, it is a great effort to keep the natural aroma of truffles, and to achieve this, some not-so-natural additives are almost always used. The artificial truffle aroma is most frequently added to these products. It is very intensive and very similar to the true aroma of fresh truffles, and its chemical composition is very close to that of kerosene. Product labels don't list this ingredient, but it can be detected in the percentage of truffles of 2-5% and by the suffocating smell that appears when you open the packaging – Sanja Melkus says.
TRUFF TRUFF products, on the other hand, feature a high percentage of truffles, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and tested home ingredients. All the products, Sanja emphasizes, are vegan-friendly, featuring no additives or preservatives.
According to our interviewee, most of the production is carried out manually, giving extra quality to the product.
– Of course, in order to make the products more durable, a part of the production is carried out mechanically, such as the pasteurization process, for example – she adds.
Sanja points out that this job, like every other, requires love and energy, which is certainly reflected in the end-products.
Of course, she adds, the financial aspect is important as well, and the truffle business is certainly cost-effective, as the product is specific. TRUFF TRUFF is one of the rare companies in Serbia to make this kind of product.
When asked where they get the truffles, Sanja says that Serbia is very rich with them.
– They are usually found in forests with specific degrees of humidity and acidity. Our truffles are sold easily in the foreign market thanks to their exceptional quality, above all. It's a little sad that these are considered local truffles in Italy, France and Croatia, and not Serbian truffles. I'm not sure who's responsible for this, but I'd like our truffles to be referred to properly – Sanja Melkus says.
She adds that, when it comes to truffles, Vojvodina takes a special place.
– Its truffles were present at Viennese imperial courts back in the 18th century. These are the best and the biggest truffles, which can cost up to EUR 10,000 per kilogram in the world. That is why our products feature the “Vojvodina truffle” tag – our interviewee says.
Sanja Melkus and Violeta Ivkovic with their truffle-hunting dogs (Photo: TRUFF TRUFF)
She especially points out that TRUFF TRUFF is helped by truffle-hunting dogs of the Lagotto Romagnolo breed.
– This is an indigenous Italian breed, which most people call truffle dogs. They are very smart, loyal and active – Sanja says.
According to our interviewee, it is much harder to find an adequate packaging.
– When we started creating this brand, we believed that the biggest challenge was to make a good product. However, it was a bigger challenge to find a good packaging. We worked very hard to find the suitable packaging in terms of glass and lids, and we are currently negotiating with a supplier about special lids for the products which contain oil – she says.
TRUFF TRUFF products are available in around fifteen stores in Belgrade and Novi Sad.
– These are small, specialized stores, offering foods such as cheeses, processed meat, organic products, health food stores, and hedonistic food departments in special Idea and Univerexport facilities. Although there are only around fifteen of these stores, we believe it's enough, as those who want to get our products can get them there – Sanja Melkus says.
She adds, however, that there is unfortunately no truffle-consuming culture in Serbia.
– Our grandmothers didn't use to feed us truffles when we were children. Our products are better recognized in foreign markets and foreign guests, which are increasingly interested in being able to find them in their home countries. That is why we are becoming more export-oriented. We have already opened the Canadian market and agreed the export to the USA, and we are currently negotiating about the export to Moscow, Slovenia and Germany, while also planning Dubai – Sanja says and adds that these are big markets, which eagerly await natural premium products.
As she points out, TRUFF TRUFF clients are discerning consumers, who often send them photographs from their kitchens where specialties based on these truffles are made.
– In the upcoming period, we will try to have the world learn as much about us and the Vojvodina truffle. We want our products to reach as many homes in the world, but in Serbia as well – our interviewee says.