Can you spot the matsutake?
Tricholoma magnivelare, the American matsutake, is my favorite mushroom of all time. It looks plain, like any old white mushroom you might kick over in the forest, but once you pick it up and take a moment to examine it, you will quickly discover that it is totally out of the ordinary.
Part of what makes this such a mysterious and extraordinary mushroom is the way that it grows. It pops up out of the ground little by little. To find one, you definitely have to be looking for it. Sometimes, the only sign of a matsutake is a little mushroom bump or a “mump” in the forest duff. The American matsutake grows in the Pacific Northwest and northern California, mostly in coniferous forests. The matsutakes pictured in this post were found in the Cascades of Oregon.
Another cool thing about the matsutake is that it is presently being studied for it’s ability to slow the growth of tumors. Also, in Japan the mushroom is used to increase fertility, virility, and the immune system.
But mostly for me, it’s the smell that does it. One whiff of this mushroom and you know right away that it’s made in the middle realm by gnomes and moon fairies. What does it smell like?
Cinnamon, forest pine, and a hint of gym locker room. It’s wonderful.
For a vegan, the matsutake is particularly pleasing, because it imparts the wonderful savory umami flavor that usually accompanies meaty dishes. The matsutake is a much sought after mushroom in Japan and China because of its unusual and pungent aroma. I’ve been told that in Japan, where the pine weevil has decimated the matsutake forests, young matsutake buttons could be sold for $1,000 per pound! My local grocery has them for $50 a pound right now. I’d say I got around $75 worth for free in the woods today at local prices.
When I find matsutakes, I sniff the heck out of them all the way home, then I clean them up with a wet rag and a knife, I wrap them up with a little olive oil and rosemary, and I steam them.
Keep your eyes peeled while you walk in the woods and if you find a mump hiding a white mushroom that smells like cinnamon and a gym locker, grab it and take it home! They’re dreamy. Trust me.
More Foraging Fun: Chicken of the Woods
Also by Susana: Vegan Vacation in Portland, Oregon
Photo: Susana Romatz