As excited as I am that we will likely soon be hunting local truffles , it’s good to note that one of the world’s rarest and most fragrant mushrooms thrives wild in our local hills. Many mushrooms have a subtle “forest floor” aroma but the Matsutake has a unique magical aroma that I find irresistible. It is this distinctive perfume that has made Matsutakes so highly prized in Japan, often commanding hundreds of dollars a pound for the finest small unopened caps.
Tricholoma Magnivelare are found from the Bay Area North along the Pacific Coast into British Columbia. We see the first ones every year from the Northern most part of their range sometime in September. From Thanksgiving to Christmas they fruit generously in our local hills, usually associated with various Pines and Madrone. They are quite easy to identify, though it’s always best to begin a foraging hobby under the watchful eye of a friend who already has some expertise. A few obvious rules apply when foraging for mushrooms in the wild. First, only forage on property where you have permission. Second, the forest floor is a very sensitive and fragile ecosystem that we have a duty to preserve. Leave the forest floor as you find it, always replacing the duff after picking your specimens. And perhaps most important, “when in doubt, throw it out”. Only a few species of mushrooms are truly edible and delicious, and the “common edibles” are quite easily identified with a little training. The trained eye will observe dozens of interesting species on a good forage day, a few of them deadly poisonous which must be carefully avoided.
Virtually any mushroom is good sautéed in butter with garlic. But the Matsutake mushroom presents many more interesting opportunities than most. Simmered in a rich Asian flavored broth with Chicken or Seafood they make a stunning soup. Another excellent way to fully capture their aroma is to bake them wrapped in foil with a little lemon zest and Dungeness crab. Lightly grilled and served over Jasmine rice is another excellent way to appreciate their complex and intriguing flavor.
You can keep Matsutakes carefully wrapped in paper towels in the refrigerator perhaps as long as a week. They also dry well, slice and string them up like popcorn, an edible garland for the holidays.