[Warning: this post has a higher-than-usual number of foreign language words. I tried to keep them to a minimum. Proceed at your own risk.]
I don’t usually get excited about doing something close to home. For some reason (even though I live in the freaking Bay Area), I always think the grass is greener if I have to get on a plane first.
But today was different.
Today I was going to look for truffles! (Or, at least a wild mushroom or two).
This is something I had always wanted to do, but never done. One of those bucket list things.
Yes, I love the cheese. But mushrooms? ((sigh)) Let’s just say, I’ve never been able to pass up a menu item if it boasts wild mushrooms.
Ira was adamant that he would not be eating anything I brought home. (That man is always on the alert for a breach of safety — whether on a computer, or in the fridge.)
I told him, “Fine. More for me.”
But I digress…
There were going to be 30 of us traipsing up and down the grassy hills, our eyes glued to the ground.
Who was this feisty band of fungi enthusiasts? A few folks from the San Francisco Professional Food Society — a group I joined recently to network and (hopefully) help build my business.
“But Tea! You’re not a food professional,” you say.
And I’d have to agree with you. Except that I do serve the food industry as a marketing consultant — at least I have a handful of food-related clients. And that’s what counts. (It will also get you into the Fancy Food Show — the Comicon for foodies.)
That. And the fact that the SFPFS members are my true peeps. They’re foodies of every shape, stripe and size. And we all know what fun it is to hang out with your people. (A fact that was brought home to me big time, today.)
Yes. So the day was like that.
Let me give you a short synopsis of our adventure.
First there was the drive up to the secret location. For me, just a quick 20 minutes from home. Most of the others had to get up early — one gal drove all the way from Napa. Another from Marin County.
We weren’t allowed to actually meet at the location in question. (Remember, it was a secret.)
So we rendezvoused at the bottom of the hill, and then consolidated the group into six different SUVs.
I asked if we needed to put bags over our heads so we wouldn’t know where we were going, but thankfully, they said that wasn’t necessary.
We were to be the guests of a local family (who shall remain nameless — secret!) and get a tour of their farmstead: the organic vegetable garden, the truffle orchard (also known as a truffiere), and the surrounding hillside of trees and wild herbs.
I was in heaven.
We broke up into three groups. Mostly because the truffiere is delicate and shouldn’t have a hoard of foodies trampling around, killing off the baby truffles. But also because it would make it easier for our guides to give us individual attention.
The first group was led by the King of Mushrooms himself, Todd Spanier (Chief Fun Guy, mushroom expert and wholesaler of fungi far and wide). Todd took them to the outskirts of the property to forage for wild mushrooms.
The second group was invited to self-tour the organic garden and taste anything and everything to their hearts’ delight.
The third group climbed the small hill to the orchard with a truffle-hunting expert and his dog. (No female pigs on this trip. I was told they tend to take off fingers if you try to take a smelly truffle away from them. They apparently smell like a male pig ready for sex. Yum!)
And then we all switched up. And switched again. Until everyone had enjoyed the full experience of the outing.
I started off in the organic garden, tasting everything from arugula (the flowers are so sweet!) to sugar snap peas to celery (salty!).
Thirty minutes or so later, we swapped places with the foragers and traipsed off with Todd to look for earthly treasures.
How many mushrooms did we find?
Sadly, not many.
The first group of foragers came up totally empty handed.
Our group (actually just one woman in our group who we later dubbed the Mushroom Queen) found two mushrooms.
One was a tiny little guy that Todd said was edible, but not worth the trouble.
And the other was a patch of larger mushrooms whose name I didn’t write down but which is pictured below.
And yes, this kind was edible, too.
Todd explained that we could tell the difference without a hand-dandy microscope by looking at the color of the spores. (I’m sure that wouldn’t be enough for Ira.) If they’re pink (as opposed to white), then you can keep ’em.
While we stalked the mushrooms, we also got lessons in wild herbs — milk thistle was abundant here, as were mustard greens, green almonds, regular almonds, red pepper corns, and bay leaves (I brought home cuttings of everything).
Then it was our turn to check out the truffle orchard. After a long, up hill hike (I am so out of shape), we came to a gated orchard of about 4 acres. This was a hazelnut orchard interspersed with oak trees; and had been planted about 8 years ago.
Our tour guides were an Italian-French friend of Todd’s (I didn’t catch his name) and the man’s trained truffle dog (of the Lagotto Romagnolo breed), Rico.
Rico did his best to find us a truffle or two, but was easily distracted by the birds and other critters (gophers run rampant up there). His master said that not many truffles have been found in this little orchard. Yet.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find any.
The whole mushroom hunting adventure seemed more like a snipe hunt than anything else. But I wasn’t disappointed. Far from it.
What’s more important than finding a stinky fungus?
I’ll tell you: Knowledge, skills and new friends. Plus the sheer enjoyment of being outdoors, breathing clean air and connecting with the earth.
Those are true gifts.
But the real treat came at the end of the outing when we all met up to eat our sack lunches.
[Side note: if you ever go on an outing with a bunch of foodies and you are told to bring a sack lunch, be brave and think outside the box a little. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead and ended up with an almond butter and jelly sandwich and a luke warm diet soda. Most of the others brought things like creme fraiche and fruit, exotic Asian dipping sauces and crudite, and I think I even saw a Heineken or two…]
Gathered at the picnic tables, under the shade of an elderberry tree, Todd proceeded to show us how to properly clean and cook chanterelles. He told us where they’re found and what their history is.
He then had us take out our pocket knives (we were told to bring these for harvesting all those mushrooms we were going to find) and clean and chop the bunch together.
As we worked, delicious homemade goodies, cooking tips and stories were shared. Nobody went hungry.
And when we were ready to eat the mushrooms, the joy of tasting those chanterelles (sauteed with a little butter, garlic chives, salt and olive oil and heaped generously on homemade crostini) was evident on every smiling face.
(Cue the silly infomercial voice) But wait! There’s more!
Todd then proceeded to whip up a batch of truffle-infused scrambled eggs for us. These were farm eggs that had been nestled inside a closed case for two days with a large truffle. The truffle’s perfume had penetrated the eggs (yes, through the shell) and gotten caught up in the fat of the yolks. He also shaved some of that truffle into the eggs, and added a few generous pinches of truffle-infused salt and a couple of BIG spoons of butter.
Again with the crostini. And now with a little of his homemade zin, too. (Sorry ladies, he’s married.)
We each only got one large bite of this special treat. And, Yes. Everyone’s eyes were rolling back in their heads from the mouthgasms.
I chewed mine very very slowly. It played with my tongue for a long moment, and then — gone!
You shoulda been there.
It was definitely a whole hog marvel if I ever saw one. (And it didn’t take a female pig to find it!)
Aside from “Don’t ever eat a mushroom raw,” I would say: Look around your own backyard. Your people are waiting for you. Go find them.