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Wild About Wild Mushrooms

In Australia, we have some of the most varied places to find amazing wild mushrooms, often well kept secrets!

Pines
Pines

Mushrooms in general are such a wonderful food source, with high fibre, vitamins (especially B group and D), minerals and antioxidants. They are linked in the latest health research with the prevention of breast and prostate cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Last month I was thrilled to accompany some chefs and food writers and be taken on a forage to learn about the varieties ready for the picking in the Macedon Ranges in Central Victoria. Firstly I should mention that collecting mushrooms is an art, and the difference between a mushroom that looks edible and one that will leave you feeling worse for wear are often minute, so having an expert with you is a great head start!

Our day began in the pine plantation and we were encouraged to forage under the roots and along the sunny edges of the forest, where wild mushrooms grow - they like the damp and some sunlight around the tree bases. Each mushroom variety is symbiotic to a particular tree, and were at first hard to spot, but with slow, careful searching we found varieties such as pines, slippery jacks, lilac coloured wood blewits and rooting shanks.

Slippery Jacks
Chef Riccardo Messora of Tutto Bene with slippery jacks

Pines were the most recognisable - a distinctive orange colour with wide gills, which are very delicate.

When bruised, these turn a deep orange, then a tinged green colour.

The slippery jacks have a sponge like texture and are quite slimy; unlike all the other varieties we found which had gills.

These are prized for eating when small, around fist sized, but can grow to be dinner plate sized and become woody and inedible, although some of the chefs suggested they just required slower wet cooking methods and the large sizes are often eaten in Europe. Less common but equally edible were the wood blewits and rooting shanks.

Wood Blewits and Rooting Shanks
Wood blewits and rooting shanks

We also found a large amount of poisonous fungi, even the pretty red toadstools with spots straight from the nursery books, but best not tried. (And yes there are magic mushrooms around too... you need some insider knowledge to find them).

After the forage, we headed to Rasputin's, one of Macedon's best restaurants where head chef Mark Renaud prepared our haul and treated us to a feast of wild and commercial mushroom dishes.

Each state has different mushroom forages and farms with tours for keen chefs held throughout the year. To register your interest in a mushroom forage or farm walk in your area visit the Mushroom Chef website, which is dedicated to the use of mushrooms in the foodservice industry.

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