Mushroom madness in the Maremma
The Maremma has gone absolutely mushroom bonkers.
I recently wrote an article about it forFlorence-based English-language magazine The Florentine, but my experience was respectful and civilized. No mushrooms were found, but everyone was satisfied with a day in the woods.
Then my father-in-law and husband suggested we actually go mushroom hunting. Not taking the autumn sights, but serious buckling down and full blown mushroom searching. And. It. Was. Torture.
About two weeks ago, the Maremma finally generated the right weather conditions for mushrooms. Tuscany’s forests are currently brimming with hundreds of varieties from little white caps to big brown dish-sized fungus.
In my neck of the wood, we have porcini mushrooms.
Porcini are the Rolls Royce of mushrooms. Back home in Australia, they aren’t available fresh. The top chefs use dried porcini that sell for a ridiculous $7 for 15 grams. They’re basically worth more than gold.
In the Maremma, neighbours and friends have been overloading Facebook with pictures of their finds. We’r talking 100, 200, tables-full of porcini mushrooms in one trip to the woods.
My father-in-law started to get antsy. He’s an old school Italian who doesn’t like missing out on free stuff even if they’re mushrooms, which he doesn’t really eat.
He wanted to do what every single Maremman is doing right now – boast about all the mushrooms he’d found. So we headed out to his secret and hopefully mushroom-filled woods.
Side note, there are vipers in these woods. I am not scared on them because I’m currently convinced that coming from the capital of poisonous animals, Australia, makes me immune to snake bites, but my husband is terrified.
To protect ourselves, we donned boots and long sleeved jumpers and thick pants and a hat and gloves and a stick for the 30°C temperatures of the macchia (woods).
It’s dark in the woods, humid and usually covered in spider webs and horrible prickly plants that we call amazzatopi (mouse killers).
Porcini mushrooms are the exact same colour as the musty brown leaves that cover the floor and there are always way more poisonous mushrooms around then there are edible ones.
On that note, I am still convinced that I will one day pick and eat a poisonous mushroom and end up destroying my liver like the author of the Horse Whisperer did.
Even the slightest whisper in the woods is too loud and any time anyone comes near your section of the woods, you get this irrational fear that they are coming to steal the mushrooms you haven’t found.
In the endless and utterly insatiable hunt for more and more porcini, you inevitably get lost. My husband and I spent a hour trying to find our way out last time we went. And for what? A basket of porcini. Not a car boot load or a table full like we’d seen our friends have.
I learnt that I am a rubbish mushroom hunter. Capable of waltzing right past a fungus that is the size of a dinner plate. I also learnt that it is nothing like the movies where they stumble across a forest full without even trying. It is back breaking and eye straining work.
With two mushroom hunting sessions under my belt, I am done for the season.
My husband used our mushrooms to make his signature porcini risotto. A little of this fungus goes a long way and we had more mushrooms than rice at our celebratory dinner.
The rest of our bounty was dried and frozen and will last the rest of the year. But I still get this niggling feeling every time I see someone else post a picture of their find. I want to get back into the woods and gather more mushrooms until I too can fill a table!
If you want to get in on the madness, you’ll need a license and a good idea of the rules. A day license in €15 for non-Tuscan residents and you can find out more from your nearest tourist office.