PORCINI TIME! MUSHROOM HUNTING IN TUSCANY

November in Tuscany can be chilly and unfriendly. With icy cold Tramontana winds blowing from the north or unpleasant humid weather moving in from the coast. 

Or it can look like this:

The landscape around Siena, seen from Porta San Marco
November bliss in Tuscany

The ideal combination for mushroom gatherers is produced by a bit of rain followed by splendid sunshine - the perfect growing conditions for these fellas...


Porcini mushroom freshly picked in Montalcino's woods
Umbrella or UFO? Giant porcini mushroom

Porcini mushrooms (funghi porcini in Italian) are loved by everybody. But they taste best when hunted by yourself. 


A dying out species: the typical Tuscan hunter-gatherer
Not just porcini: a selection of mushrooms found in Tuscany's forests

Before morphing into Brunello land, Montalcino has been woodcutters country for centuries. Today its inhabitants belong to the highest per capita earners of the region, but many of them still carry the hunting-gathering gen transmitted by centuries of foraging Tuscan ancestors.

The most expansive forests near Montalcino can be found along the road towards Castiglione del Bosco (Italian for 'castle of the woods'). Even with GPS and WIFI coverage, it's still surprisingly easy to get lost in this part of the world, so stay on the path if you explore Montalcino's holm oak woods on your own. 
Montalcino's holm oak woods in autumn
Woods not vineyards: Montalcino's northwestern territory

There are many types of eatable mushrooms growing in Tuscany's forests. Many are prized like the rare cucco or the lovely looking famigliole, but as in other parts of the world, the porcino (boletus edulis) is the lion king. 

I'm utterly useless at finding any of them. Edible ones at least, as it's impossible not to tread on a few poisonous or psychedelic mushrooms during autumn walks. The trick is to team up with locals who know where to find them. And whether to eat them or not!


November in Tuscany: porcini mushroom galore
Next basket please


But once they've been located, you above all need somebody with the patience to clean them.


Mushroom cleaning in Montalcino's famous holm oak woods
Hours of work...


Mushrooms taste divine in many forms. But nothing compares to eating them freshly picked right in the woods. 


Polenta cooking in the woods near Castiglion del Bosco
Fire-cooked polenta with a side dish of marinated mushrooms. Yes, please!

A tryptich of Tuscany's November foodie delights: prosciutto, marinated mushrooms and new EVOO
Montalcino style picnic in the woods 


No expert hunter? This is the mushroom picking manual our friends' son drew for us.


Your porcini mushroom hunting guide
Mushroom picking in Tuscany : easy, isn't it?


If a five year old's manual won't help, you best talk to a local for mushroom gathering advice in Tuscany. And always remember to show your finds to a seasoned picker before taking the first bite!

MUSHROOM HUNTING IN MONTALCINO
If you're in the area in autumn or winter, ask at your B&B, hotel or at any winery in Montalcino about mushroom picking in Tuscany. One of the most prolific pickers in Brunello territory is Marco Sassetti, who runs the Palazzone estate together with his Scottish wife Laura Gray. Book a wine tasting with Laura, buy a few bottles of Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino, and then casually ask for the best porcini spots in the area...

The Palazzone winery's blog also explains how Montalcino's woodcutting past is linked to the name of the wine town and to one of the porcini mushrooms' favorite homes: Mediterranean holm oak woods.  

Still not sure your mycology knowledge will suffice for an adventure in Tuscany's forestsTake the academic approach and study the colorful mushroom collection in Siena's fabulous natural history museum first. 


The colorful mushroom collection in Siena's natural history museum
Alice in Wonderland

Or just don't bother with all the hunting - gathering and ask in Brunello town's best restaurants about fresh porcini. 

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