I love wild foods –especially wild mushrooms. The forest contains some of the most delicious foods and some of them, like mushrooms and truffles, are defenseless and just waiting for you to pick them.
I wish it was that simple. Our hosts can see the forest floor like Neo can see the matrix.
My guide was Luigi – a 26-year foraging veteran in Emilia Romagna who started out with a farmer’s market stand and is now king of the small specialty food & hospitality empire that produces our favorite Selezione truffle oils.
Luigi and one of his foragers brought a dog along to help with the truffles. Dogs help locate truffles with more accuracy than humans – allowing them to be gathered without digging up large portions of the ground. This is better for the forest and better for the truffles. By not disturbing the delicate mycological organism underground that produces truffles, you help ensure they’ll still be around next year. And, dogs can tell at a distance whether a truffle’s fully ripe, so you’re not plucking truffles before (or after) their time.
You’ve probably heard of people hunting truffles with pigs, and some still do, just not in Italy. It’s illegal to use pigs there because of Italy’s forests are different and pigs would damage the ground.
We were especially glad to have the dog with us on this trip because bianchetti season was almost over – the truffles still out there were tiny – about 5g each. They’re really, really hard to find if you don’t have a trained nose down on the ground.* As it turned out, they made the truffle hunting so easy for me that it wasn’t very rewarding. The dog did most of the work and then my guide pushed the dirt aside and said something like “here, take it.” It was like taking an egg out of an unguarded chicken nest. Too easy.
Next we moved on to the morels. Believe it or not, despite having eaten tons of morel mushrooms over the years that grow within a couple hundred miles of my home, I’ve never actually hunted them myself – so this was a great treat.
Unfortunately we couldn’t use our canine assistant here…the only way we could find them is to train our eye to watch for the white/cream color of their stems – picking them out amongst the leaves and debris on the forest floor.
Luigi’s got the eyes of a hawk, I’d walk right past a bunch of leaves where he’d immediately spot six morels. Foraging at this level really is an art – a combination of eyesight, knowledge, experience and perseverance. I got better at spotting them the more time we spent looking, but I’m not going to be at his level anytime soon.
The entire trip to Italy was an incredible experience – the food, products, and the people producing them here are amazing, but this foray out into the wild was a particular highlight.
*Note to self: I need to put Nyoki to work next Oregon truffle season – it’s time he earned his keep.
Post Written by Justin Marx