For my birthday, my brother gifted me a mushroom foraging and cooking class. He may be the best brother ever. I probably shouldn’t say that – I have two brothers 😉
T’Gallant winery run Mushrooms in May classes from their property at Red Hill. A group of about forty city-slickers gathered in the winery’s garden before the class. We each got a hi-vis vest and washed our boots in a bleach solution before entering the farm.
Our guide was Riccardo, who is head chef at the restaurant on site. His knowledge of mushroom varieties and ways to cook them was impressive. His stories revealed he’d grown up in Italy. His family had foraged for mushrooms often.
Our first mushroom sighting was early on, a white bulb-shaped fungi. Riccado knew its name and how best to eat it…but! I didn’t take my notebook with me, so I can’t remember the details. How frustrating!
We walked towards the boundary of the property. Riccardo told us the history of the winery. The wine regions of Friuli and Alsace influenced their plantings of pinot gris.
Along the fence line grows a row of pine trees. Riccardo talked about the symbiotic relationship between mushrooms and trees. Each kind of mushroom will grow beside certain trees. So look for that kind of tree when hunting for fungi! We were looking for Pine mushrooms, also known as Saffron milk caps (Lactarius Deliciosus). There were also Slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) on this property.
We found some more mushrooms, but were disappointed to learn they are poisonous. Again, I wish I had taken notes, because then I could say the name of these mushrooms! They look a lot like Pine mushrooms, but have spots on their top. Few of us were confident we could identify the spots without Riccardo’s help…
Not far away, we found some actual pine mushrooms huddled under the pine needles! Look for little mounds of pine needles. They’re pretty subtle, I feel I’d need to get my eye in to be successful! The pine mushroom was a gorgeous apricot colour on top with white gills underneath. Riccardo cut one with a knife just above the base to reduce the need for cleaning.
Riccardo told us that the best mushrooms are found a few days after rain. We were visiting after lots of rain, and so he suspected the mushrooms would be no good. We did find slippery jacks that were full of water, too far gone for good eating. The slippery jack doesn’t look too appetising with its clammy top. Underneath, it has a yellow sponge over its gills that looks like melted cheese 😉
Back at the cellar door, we sat around the demonstration kitchen on hay bales. We each received a tasting of wine, perhaps Imogen Pinot Gris? I really should learn to take notes 😦 Cups of steaming hot mushroom soup accompanied the wine. It was delicious.
Riccardo stepped us through how he makes polenta. He gently warms milk first. Next, some herbs as an infusion: rosemary, thyme, sage and bay leaf. Only having used vegetable stock in polenta before, this was a revelation to me. Then the instant polenta was added, with a directive to ignore the packet instructions. Riccardo aims for a 1:3 polenta to liquid ratio. It was surprising how quickly the polenta cooked up – it seems to take me much longer!
We sampled generous squares of mushroom and gorgonzola pizza as the demonstration progressed. With another tasting of wine, of course! Riccardo used a variety of mushrooms to go with the polenta. Pine, button, porcini, maybe some field mushrooms as well. Chopped thickly, they were tossed in a hot frying pan to ‘dry’ fry. We all laughed when he revealed his idea of dry frying was to add two tablespoons of olive oil! I think Riccardo added the same aromatic herbs, as well as some butter at the end.
Plates of mushrooms with polenta that had been baked earlier came around. I loved the crispy edge of the polenta surrounding its fluffy interior. Usually I fry polenta, and it sticks to the pan in all sorts of ways. Next time I’ll try baking. The mushrooms were cooked, but still firm. The ‘gravy’ created in the frying was rich and delicious. This time we received a full glass of red wine with the food. My brother and I agreed we didn’t need lunch anymore.
I learnt how much I don’t know about mushrooms on this tour. I’d love to go foraging, but even with a reference book I wouldn’t be confident on my own yet. One of the women on the tour mentioned she’d foraged with her family as a kid. We’re going to catch up and go mushrooming together sometime!
I’m told the pine forests in Woodend, Macedon and Red Hill are good foraging sites. Mushrooming has become popular and you need to get out early before everyone else takes them. My husband thinks there’d be more mushrooms further into the forests though. I quite like the idea of some combination mountain biking and mushrooming..!