At this time of the year, the enthusiasts are busy polishing up their wicker baskets, digging out those old trousers and the faithful old wellies. It’s the annual ball of the mushroom searchers, and when, like this year, the rain has been very scarce, many of them are out there doing a tribal rain-dance! So far, that has resulted in a heavy downpour last Sunday (which did more harm than good, since the dry, cracked soil didn’t have a chance to soak it up), but there will surely be some more on the way very soon.
Locals – but more specifically, non-locals – have been strongly advised not to rush into the woods following the heavy shower; dozens of blundering, trampling boots will only devastate the “fungine”(mushroom habitat), and ruin the chances of anything growing there. Unfortunately, the suggestion to hang on a minute was aimed mainly at outsiders, who often disregard the most fundamental rules of respect for nature. Natives, on the other hand, have every reason to proceed with great care, since they are very familiar with the areas they usually haunt, and where they have already struck gold.
So King Porcino is here! Social media is full of photos of our prized mushrooms in all shapes and sizes. The proud finders are more than forthcoming in their desire to show off all exhibits, but don’t even think of asking them where the exhibits were found………you will either get eloquent, italian gestures together with a “Heeeeeee….”, or they will send you trotting off to the opposite side of the continent!
Why are our local “Boletus Edulis & co” rated so highly? Why did they obtain IGP certification? What does that even mean? The acronym stands for “Indicazione Geografica Protetta”, and tells us that the porcini were picked in specific geographical areas, including ours. It means that our mushrooms are the best of their kind, for flavour and aroma. It means that people will come for miles to find them and especially to eat them! It means that the Val Taro is famous for them, amongst many other things. It has something to do with the combination of suitable soil, environment and climate, and needless to say, we are proud of having a special mention on the gastronomic map thanks to these little fellas!
You may then wonder what we do with them…….question that leads to a world of discovery! For some folks, they are a source of income, but for most, King Porcino is a welcome guest in the pantry, in many guises. The most frequent use is probably a delicious mushroom sauce, used to delight the palate with some wonderful homemade “tagliatelle” – egg noodles cut to the desired width. Feeling hungry?! Another favourite is a lovely risotto…..but maybe the most popular of all is the fried version; the larger specimens are cut into slices, dipped in flour or egg batter, and fried in olive oil. Of course there are infinite other ways of cooking them, but we don’t have all day……..
On a good trip to the woods, a searcher who knows his/her stuff may come back loaded, which means that the produce needs to be preserved in some way. Here again, there are different methods of assuring a ready supply of porcini for a long time to come. They can be frozen, and used straight from the freezer for the risotto or sauce we mentioned previously; they can be preserved in oil with herbs, following a suitable preparation; they can be dried out, either in the sun, or in a desiccator, after which they are placed into bags for future use. All these methods are equally worthy, and can be found in almost every self-respecting home around here!
With the next downpour, King Porcino and all his associates will be making their big entrance……ready,steady….GO!
All photos kindly submitted by Antonella Camisa.