When we heard that the Sonoma town of Healdsburg holds an annual mushroom festival, we were in!
Mushroom Foraging and Feed
The Healdsburg event included a range of activities, from multi-course mushroom dinners, to foraging excursions, specialty mushroom marketplaces and lectures, to tastings at a number of local wineries. Area restaurants including Dry Creek Kitchen and Madrona Manor staged big, multi-course mushroom-themed meals. Others offered special mushroom dishes, such as Barndiva’s rabbit fricassee with roasted wild chanterelles and dandelion green farfalle, followed by mushroom ice cream. Moustache was also in desert mode, with candy cap mushroom macaroons and with meringue cookies with maple and candy cap ganache designed to look like real candy cap mushrooms.
The primary focus of our activities was the Relish Culinary Center’s Wild Mushroom Foray & Sunday Brunch. About 25 participants met at a remote ranch deep in Anderson Valley at 9:00, for a roughly 2-hour mushroom forage with our expert guide, Elissa Rubin-Mahon. The ranch, which has lovely, scenic views over the valley, is reportedly filled with mushrooms after rainy periods.
Unfortunately, the weekend took place during a long dry spell. Pickings were, at best, slim. We did manage to find a few samples (many of which dried out) of a few varieties, including Jack-o-Lantern, Puffball, Cortinarius and Amanita. Two, in particular, the bright orange-colored Witch’s Butter and the multi-colored Turkey Tail, were beautiful, albeit a bit shriveled and well past their viewing, much less their eating peak.
While a couple of the species were edible, we were told that none of those we found were particularly tasty. The Puffball, in particular, is called the tofu of mushrooms, for its lack of taste and its propensity for picking up the flavor of other ingredients. A couple did have medicinal uses, one was used for dyes and one was even psychoactive. Others were non-edible, and mildly poisonous.
Among all two dozen people, there was nary a single mushroom that any of us could take home to eat. This is in sharp contrast to our previous forage along the much wetter, more humid Sonoma Coast, where we went home with enough Golden Chanterelles for two delicious meals.
But, while our quest for edible mushrooms was generally a bust, we did learn a lot about mushrooms and foraging techniques. While our mushroom baskets may have left the event empty, this was not the case for our stomachs. After our bout with Mother Nature, we retreated to the culinary school where mimosas and a five-dish mushroom brunch awaited. The brunch, which began with candy cup mushroom scones with orange-honey marmalade (the latter of which was made by our multi-talented mushroom foraging guide). Then came a green salad with radicchio and roasted hedgehog mushrooms, a porcinio mushroom and sun-dried tomato frittata, roasted fingerling potatoes with pioppini mushrooms and the highlight of the meal—Candy cap bacon which took on the deep maple aroma and taste of the delicious mushroom.
The meal was accompanied by Elissa’s further discussion of mushrooms, this time accompanied with samples what we could look at, smell and touch, and pictures and explanations of dozens of other local varieties that, if we were there during more mushroom-friendly weather, we could pick on our own.
Relish, however, did give us hope for finding some of our own mushrooms with an over for us to join them free on another one of their forays.
Wine and Mushroom Pairings
By the end of the brunch, we were in a mushroom tasting mood. Luckily, a number of Sonoma County wineries were anxious to help, with their own Pinot Noir and mushroom pairings.
We did not, unfortunately, have time to partake of the two most ambitious winery mushroom events:
- Chateau St. Jean, which offered a weekend full of mushroom lectures, lunches, marketplaces, art and, the event in which we had the greatest interest, a guided, station-to-station tasting to sample a range of different mushroom and Pinot pairings.
- Francis Ford Coppola, which had a three-course paring that matched crispy pork belly and pickled hedgehogs with one of its Chardonnays, porcini mushroom bisque with a pinot and oyster mushroom ragu with rigatoni and a reserve Syrah.
We did, however, make it to a few other winery-sponsored pairings:
- Hop Kiln Winery’s RRV HKG Estate Pinot Noir paired with a wild mushroom frittata;
- Thumbprint Cellars’ Nugent Vineyard Piont with wild mushroom and gruyere cheese flatbread; and
- Starlite Winery’s Zinfandel with wild mushroom ravioli and fresh wild mushroom garnish.
Overall, a decent combination of events—if only our foraging yielded some edible results. Although we will consider doing a couple events next year, we will probably wait ore the coast for another attempt at picking our own dinner.