Thinking of heading down to your local grocery store to pick up some fresh gourmet mushrooms? Or maybe you’d like to try and grow them yourself?
Unfortunately, for many types of gourmet mushrooms, that isn’t always possible.
That’s because some of the tastiest mushrooms in the world just refuse to be cultivated commercially.
Usually it is because these mushrooms share a symbiotic relationship with a particular type of tree (known as a mycorrhizal mushroom), and the cultivation code has yet to be cracked.
In other cases- like the shaggy mane- the mushroom self destructs after harvest which makes it near impossible for commercialization.
If you want to try these special mushrooms, you’ll have to either find them in the wild, or be lucky enough to know someone who can!
First on the list is the famed Chanterelle mushroom.
This prized edible fruits in late summer and fall, and is definitely a favorite among mushroom hunters!
Chanterelles are a mycorrhizal fungus, which means they grow in a complex symbiosis with other trees. This is the main reason why they cannot be commercially cultivated.
They are best if enjoyed soon after harvest, sauteed in butter and garlic. If you have a large bounty of 'Chants, it is possible to dry them for long term storage- but they’ll end up quite leathery after drying.
You can find all the different types of Chanterelle depending on the time of year, and the location that you are foraging.
Most, however, have the same characteristics and are relatively easy to identify. They are typically yellow or orange, grow singly, and have “false gills” (meaning you can’t separate them from the cap) running down the stem.
New foragers will sometimes misidentify the Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) as a Chanterelle.
Unfortunately, the Jack-O-Lantern mushroom is quite poisonous and although not deadly, can cause serious digestive upset.
Jack-O-Lanterns usually grow in clusters, are orange-brown and have “true gills” meaning the gills can be separated from the cap.
Here is a great video explaining the difference between the two.
2. Porcini (Boletus edulis)
The Porcini Mushroom (also known as ‘Cep, King Bolete, Penny Bun) is a large edible gourmet mushroom that grows in coniferous forests throughout the northern hemisphere.
It is another mycorrhizzal mushroom which forms a symbiotic relationship with living trees.
Although these mushrooms are large, they can be hard to find as they often hide under fallen pine needles and other debris on the forest floor.
"Porcini" is used to definte a number of different Bolete species, and there is some debate as to whether or not true Boletus edulis actually grows in North America.
Porcini can be cooked, dried or powdered and has an amazing nutty flavor. It is one of the few mushrooms that is still
Porcini’s are one of the easier mushrooms to identify. They have pores under the cap instead of gills, which are white when young. The cap is usually brown-red and the stalk stalk can be very thick.
There are some boletes that look similar to Porcini and are poisonous, so always be careful and make sure you know what you are doing.
3. Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)
This type of mushroom actually can cultivated quite easily.
It is a saprophytic mushroom, meaning it gets it's nutrition from decaying matter, and doesn't depend on any complex relationship with other living plants in order to fruit.
You can find Shaggy Mane growing near roads and trails in forests all over North America- but it also grows on city trails, parks and front lawns. You are most likely to find it in the fall,
The reason it’s not grown commercially, however, is because it has a "self destruct" mechanism.
Mere hours after harvest, it will “deliquesce” into a black inky goo, rendering it unsuitable for anywhere but the compost pile.
Shaggy Mane is best when picked young, when the fruit bodies are still firm, and is often enjoyed in soups.
Identifying Shaggy Mane
Shaggy Mane is one of the easiest and safest mushrooms to properly identify. They have a white cylindrical cap with a “shaggy” appearance.
As they mature, the gills turn black and eventually deliquesce whether they are picked or not.
There is another mushroom that does look similar to Shaggy Mane when young known as “the vomiter” (Chlorophyllum molybdites), which, as the name implies, can make you quite sick.
This lookalike has green spores, opens up to form a large cap as it ages, and does not decay into a black goo.
4. Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum)
This is a cool one!
The lobster mushroom is created when one mushroom (Russula or Lactarius ) is parasitized by the ascomycete fungus Hypomyces lactifluorum- turning it into a delicious gourmet edible.
The only caveat is that the original mushroom is rendered unidentifiable, so you can’t really be 100% sure what you are eating.
Still, many people eat lobster mushrooms and there doesn’t seem to be any danger eating them.
Check out this cool video below that shows the mushroom before and after it is parasitized and turned into a gourmet edible.
Identifying Lobster Mushroom
This gourmet mushroom is pretty easy to identify, as there is really nothing else that looks quite like it. Lobster mushrooms are so named because they resemble the color and texture of the outside of a lobster shell.
Ok, so this one can actually be grown commercially… kind of.
Apparently, there are some huge farms in China that are now able to commercially cultivate Morel Mushrooms.
It looks pretty amazing.
People have been trying to cultivate Morel Mushrooms commercially in the USA for many years and, as far as I know, only with very limited success- which means for now, Morel Mushrooms are still only available for those who go out in the woods to find them.
Morels are a mushroom hunters favorite, and are one of the first mushrooms to show up in the spring.
Of course, you don’t have to go out in the woods yourself to find these mushrooms. Depending on where you live, you can often find them at farmers markets and gourmet restaurants that deal with wild mushrooms.
As always, if you do want to try and hunt these mushrooms yourself, be 100% sure of the identity of a mushroom before you consume it. It’s best to go with an experienced forager or by joining up with your local mycological association.
-SPREAD THE SPORES-