The porcini are coming!
The hunters know where they live, and they wait for them. As the fog drip falls from the pines, they count the days; it takes two weeks, they say, after the first inch of rain for the new threads of life to surge through the soil, gain biomass among the tree roots and prep for the push. And now they’re coming: the porcini.
Last month’s first rains launched the 2010 season, and in California’s coastal conifers, the party has started for Boletus edulis. These mushrooms often wear pine needles on their brown caps, accidental fashion that adds to their charm, and the charismatic porcini walk a fine line between plump clumsiness and irresistible good looks. Either way, their flavor and aromatics are world-class—a nutty, smoky smell that floods the house as the mushroom slices simmer in olive oil or broil in the oven.
At Corti Brothers and Whole Foods locations, fresh coastal porcini will be hitting shelves this month. Most will weigh just several ounces, while the trophies of 2, 3 and 4 pounds may go to the restaurants. Many porcini in stores have been sliced vertically in two for worm inspection—because at 20 bucks a pound, fly larvae are not part of the bargain.
West Coast porcini grow larger than the same species anywhere else on Earth. In my own mushrooming expeditions, I have met Italian ’shroom hunters in the Dolomites who have never seen a Boletus edulis bigger than 2 pounds—but most veteran California hunters have seen 5-pounders. Ten-pounders have been documented, and mushroom lore tells of porcini as big as tree stumps.
Those interested in hunting porcini should go with a knowledgeable veteran. The coastal bloom will last through December and into January. In May and June, the same mushroom (and some close delicious relatives) will rise in the forests of the Sierras. Check out www.mykoweb.com/CAF/species/Boletus_edulis.html for ID tips and other basics.