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Friday 15 November 2013

Autumn is Mushroom Season

Surrounded by hectares of natural indigenous forest our daily walks invariably bring us across mushrooms of every shape, size and colour, particularly in the cooler autumn months. 

During the season many local villagers are out every day, basket in hand, seeking the most prized specimens of edible varieties to supplement their typical Umbrian diet. We have now discovered that Italy is one of the leading countries in the world for the picking and consumption of wild mushrooms with a long tradition, invariably passed from father to son, of foraging in the woods in favourite if secret locations for this bountiful, natural and delicious crop.

The wide variety present in this region, together with the ever present reality of many inedible species and several fatally toxic ones, means that specialist knowledge is essential to find, recognise and safely enjoy these amazing 'fruits of the forest'. 

Throughout Italy government sponsored training courses are run every year by qualified and licensed Micology experts to share their knowledge and so help instruct and train any aspiring mushroom hunter on how to find, recognise and differentiate between the various species. In particular the courses focus on how to be certain which mushrooms are safe for consumption, which are inedible for various reasons and, especially, the species to be avoided at all costs because of their fatally poisonous toxins!

Full attendance at such a course (10 sessions totalling more than 20 hours of lectures over a three week period) qualifies participants for the 'Certificate of Training' necessary to be granted a Local Authority licence to legally collect mushrooms in the public forests. In addition, many town councils hold weekly clinics run by qualified experts to help you identify any mushrooms you have picked and certify (or not) their suitability for human consumption.

Earlier this year I completed one of these courses and now have the necessary 'Certificate' to allow me to collect wild mushrooms ... and have since spent many hours enjoying long walks in the local forests looking for some of the varieties of edible mushrooms available at this time of year.

Here are some pictures of the results:

A beautiful example of a young fresh Lactarius Deliciosus (L), known locally as 'Sanguinelli', nestling among the moss and autumn leaves of the pine forest floor, it's favourite habitat.

This species is easily distinguishable by the unusual verdigris colouring always present on its cap and the pink hue of its gills and stem.

A couple of hours walk in the forest provides a wonderful crop of over two kilos of 'Sanguinelli' to be carefully inspected, cleaned and prepared for cooking!

Careful comparison with the textbooks is essential, together with the cutting of stem and cap to verify the suitability of every mushroom picked.

Strange as it may sound, another unique and distinguishing characteristic of this delicious variety of mushroom is the blood-red sap it produces when the stalk or cap is cut, hence its popular name 'Sanguinello' ... or 'bloody'!

Another important feature to look for when correctly identifying this variety are the naturally occurring red 'weals' on the stalk.

The mushrooms are thoroughly cleaned, cut into thin slices and cooked for 20 minutes in a 50%-50% wine and vinegar solution. When ready they are taken  from the liquid, drained, spread on a cloth and left covered overnight to dry.

The slices of mushrooms are then carefully packed into preserving jars with an occasional sprinkling of whole black pepper corns and a few dried chilies, before completely covering them in virgin olive oil. These can then be stored for up to a year if necessary but are best enjoyed regularly as an accompaniment to fresh bread and cheese and/or a selection of 'salumi' - local cured meats.

Truly 'Lactarius Deliciosus' as their Latin name suggests!

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