It’s fall and in Russia its time to hunt mushrooms. Russian villagers call mushrooms “free pork” – implying that mushrooms have as much protein as meat and also tastes good if prepared correctly. The king of the Russian mushroom hunt is Beliy Grib or “White Mushroom” known as Porcini, or sometimes bolete, to the Western World. Usually porcinis grow in pine forests. So another Russian name for them is “borovik” where “bor” is a pine forest.
In the vast culinary world of edible mushrooms, only one can be called king. The meat-like texture of porcini, along with their earthy and somewhat nutty flavor, is unequaled among mushrooms and lends itself to countless dishes.
Porcini belong to the boletus genus of mushrooms, characterized by a soft, meaty white body that does not change color after it is cut (boletusthat change color to blue when cut or bruised should not be eaten). All porcini are boletus, but are all boletus porcini?
It is hard to say as mycologists (mushroom scientists) cannot agree on the finer points of the genus, therefore, porcini (or boletus) can take on a range of shapes and colors, but all grow under similar conditions. Porcini grow in association of specific trees and are considered mycorrihzal associates – in effect, porcini live in a symbiotic relationship with the trees they grow under. Many mushroom foragers find porcini living under pine trees, poking up through the dead needles, but it is well known that the best porcini are picked in chestnut woods. These are known for their light-colored hat and are best eaten fresh. As porcini gets older, their underhat turns a darker color. All species of porcini are characterized by a big, round, fleshy cap that is supported by a short round stalk.
We went on a mushroom hunt early in the morning and was lucky to find a lot of them hiding in the clean and tidy pine forest.
Gathering wild porcini is still the preferred way of getting them, but is not suggested unless you are properly trained. We pulled it completely out of the ground, which is considered to be bad practice – this way you destroy the mycelium – the underground network of mushroom roots which can generate more fruit – or with time actual mushrooms, if not damaged:
For the rest of us, finding fresh porcini may be difficult, but worth the hunt.
When buying fresh porcini, carefully examine the mushroom for signs of age. If the undersides of the caps have a yellowish-brown tinge to them, the mushrooms are becoming over-ripe. If you do notice some signs of worms after purchasing them, stand the porcini on their caps for a time to allow the worms (they are harmless) to escape out of the stalk. Brush off any dirt you may find and wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth. You can wash them in cold water if you want, but only if you plan to use them right away.
If you wish to join us on our next hunt please contact us and get more info!