Foraging for mushrooms is a very secretive and competitive activity. It is rare to find hunters who will share their well-searched locations that sprout enough mushrooms to fill their baskets. Certain types of edible fungi can garner quite a bit of pocket change if sold to local chefs, or at the very least, they can be the defining ingredients in a rich-tasting meal for the table. Another perk to mushrooming is that the activity itself has the nostalgic thrill of a childhood treasure hunt.
Knowing this, we felt quite fortunate when we were given an exclusive invitation to accompany Jeff Cleary, of Denver’s Grateful Bread Company, to scour his hidden mountainside spots for porcini and chanterelles. On a drizzly September Sunday, we trustingly climbed into his rusty but reliable Ford Bronco, immediately catching each other’s side glances as we eyed the crooked stack of empty wicker baskets, a dog-eared and essential book on mushroom identification, a well-worn knife and a loaded pistol that was synched around his waist. We locked the hubs and rumbled into the hills to explore a number of his secret foraging grounds. We were in for a serious day of hunting.
On this day, we were searching for porcini and chanterelle because, according to Jeff and his read on the weather, we were in that season. Morels are the first to pop up in late Spring, followed by porcini that grow from the end of June to the last days of September, and closing the cycle are chanterelles that appear during the onset of cool weather. Mushrooms also like to grow on northwestern facing slopes. As Jeff navigated the deep ruts and ditches along our route while simultaneously searching the hillsides, his GPS guided us to the hot spots he had marked from earlier fruitful explorations.
Jeff is a veteran forager and has been hunting private parcels of land for the last 18 years. It takes time to learn how to discern the safe mushrooms from the lethal ones, and even the nuanced differences between a delicious “prime cut” morel and a similar looking “cheap cut” morel that can produce the same chemical found in jet fuel. Instead of sharing the identification information we learned, we think it would be best to take an expert like Jeff or someone from the Mycological Society on a foraging excursion and have a Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide on hand to help identify the good from the bad.
Mushroom hunting season has come to a close now that the early snows of November have arrived. But with the crisp autumnal weather, we feel it’s not too late to enjoy the homey earthiness of the mushroom risotto recipe we’ve posted.
Don’t even attempt to pry the hushed information we now have on where to find the mother load of mushrooms…we promised not to tell.