Mushroom season at Wild Harvest

The  Staff Canteen
Autumn is the season when wild mushrooms really come into their own. With the increasingly dark, cool and moist climate to encourage them, the little fungi are currently peppering forests across Europe with bright splashes of colour and dark, earthy aromas.  With mushrooms on our mind The Staff Canteen decided to head off to UK seasonal food suppliers, Wild Harvest, to have a look at the season’s choicest offerings.   Wild Harvest supplies all kinds of seasonal products from fruit and vegetables to game to meat and even molecular gastronomy ingredients, but mushrooms are particularly close to their hearts. A quarter of all their sales come from fungi and around 1,000 kgs of wild, cultivated, dried and frozen mushrooms have passed through their warehouse every week this year alone. In the depths of their walk-in fridge in New Covent Garden Market, area sales manager and chef presenter, Paola Carlini gave us a tour of some of the finest specimens that are currently on offer. First in line were saffron milk caps from France. True to their name they have broad saffron-yellow caps which range in shape from Mexican sombrero to drooping leaf, and a deep, earthy taste that perhaps inspired their Latin name Lactarius deliciosus. Next up were pied bleu with their distinctive pastel-blue feet and white caps; these come from France where they are specially cultivated in caves whose dark, dank climate provide perfect growing conditions for the magical-looking mushrooms. Also named after their feet are the pied de mouton (‘sheep’s foot’ or ‘rat’s foot’ in Spain); they are knobbly and gnarled with a rusty orange tint and a range of sizes. Chanterelles are a big favourite and come in two varieties: grey and yellow. They’re currently coming from France but the declining whether in central Europe might mean switching to Portugal or Spain soon where the drier weather produces higher quality chanterelles over the winter months. Another massive favourite are ceps, or porcini as they’re known in Italy. Their popularity is matched by their price, which can get up to £30/kg. The burnt-brown colour of ceps is indicative of their dark, earthy taste. They smell of damp forests and have a firm meaty texture. Mousserons, also known as fairy rings, come in two varieties: standard and purple; they are tiny and delicate with a low water content and an intense flavour. Trompettes de la mort (trumpets of death) are black and flat and brittle and look like fallen leaves.  Also known as horns of plenty or black chanterelles, they have one of the most intense flavours of all wild mushrooms and are available pretty much all year round. The cauliflower fungus looks, funnily enough, like a cauliflower or perhaps a brain coral. It has a crunchy texture like seaweed and an intensely earthy flavour. Last but not least come the gods of the fungal underworld: truffles. Black truffles come from Umbria in Italy where they come straight from the supplier and are delivered overnight by special courier. In autumn Wild Harvest will have three or four deliveries weekly and will sell around 10kgs of this black gold every week. Black truffles increase in quality and ‘nose’ as the year gets older. Already they have a strong earthy smell which you can detect from several feet away. By December, according to Paola, you can smell them from the offices upstairs. As the whiffiness goes up so does the price: autumn black truffles are currently selling at around £240/kg but will reach the £2,000/kg mark in December. The white truffle season has also started and these, which Wild Harvest procure mostly from the Alba region of north east Italy, will fetch around £2,000/kg from the start of the season in mid-October to the end of the season in late December with a particular spike around the Christmas and new year season. All in all it is an autumn harvest worth celebrating. But this autumn’s mushroom season is special to Wild Harvest in other ways as well; September was the 20th anniversary of the company’s inception, an inception that was rooted in wild mushrooms. The founder of Wild Harvest was originally a documentary filmmaker until he made a film on wild mushroom picking and became so infatuated with the subject that he decided to give up his day job and pick mushrooms for a living. At around this time the fine dining scene in London was really starting to explode with the likes of Marco Pierre White leading the way, so the demand for top quality wild mushrooms began to increase. Indeed it soon outstripped what he could provide, so he began driving to Rungis market in Paris to supplement his stock. After a few years he was selling enough to make it viable to go straight to the suppliers, a tradition which Wild Harvest continues to this day, obtaining their mushrooms straight from picking stations around Europe and the world. Now of course the numbers are far greater than they were twenty years ago but the tradition of supplying mushrooms to some of the very best high end eateries continues, with the likes of Locanda Locatelli, Babbo, Tristan and Viajante all on the books. With their first twenty years behind them, the Wild Harvest team are constantly looking ahead to grow and expand their range of quality ingredients. But autumn is also a time for nostalgia and reflection and it never hurts to remember your roots. As Paola says: “Mushrooms are where we started and they’ll always be central to what we do.”
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th November 2013

Mushroom season at Wild Harvest