The Bay Area’s weather may be terrible, but the climate is just what the doctor ordered for our friends in the fungus-foraging community.
Forbidden—and downright deadly—mushrooms have been popping up all over lately. So have newly decriminalized psychoactive varieties, as well as more dinner table-friendly varieties, like the tasty and pricey porcini, also known as the king bolete.
The type coveted by Dame Helen Mirren’s character in The Hundred-Foot Journey is having an absolutely epic season, according to Mycological Society of San Francisco President Natalie Wren.
“The season for porcini is long and strong this year,” Wren told The Standard.
From October, when porcini season began, and running through December, Wren has collected 40 pounds of shrooms, but says she knows foragers who have collected several hundreds of pounds this season. Pacifica seems to be a particularly rich spot, with collectors striking fungi gold and often uncovering a mushroom as big as an adult’s head.
Known for their deep, woodsy flavor and fondness for the bases of trees in coastal pine forests and oak woodlands, porcinis (Italian for “piglets”) have a special bond with the forest. Like truffles and morels, porcinis look out for each other and their surrounding ecosystems by exchanging nutrients.
Dan Farber, who has collected porcinis in the Bay Area for over 30 years and used to teach mycology for the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz, has some insight into why it’s been such a bountiful year.
“We’ve had the perfect sequence of rain,” he explained. “The ground got saturated and remained that way since October, so the pace of the wetness has been perfect for the mushrooms.”
Farber says the mushrooms are still going strong even this late in the game.
“It’s a really good year,” he said. “In the last 20 years, it’s been really tough, and in the last few years, the diversity of the mushrooms has not been so great.”
While Farber consumes his bolete haul lightly seared with salt, olive oil and butter, those without the mycological know-how might find better luck sating their porcini hankering at a local eatery.