Cepes (Boletus edulis): Also known as porcini and penny buns, this meaty mushroom is the world’s most commercially important wild fungus. When dried the already wonderful rich flavour deepens and intensifies to become positively nutty. Finding the first porcino of the break is the highpoint of the break for most guests.
Parasol mushroomsParasol (Lepiota procera): This is the Audrey Hepburn of the mushroom world – fried on toast it is too good for even the swankiest New York restaurant. It is also an ideal beginner’s mushroom because as it grows in open pasture, the frilly cap perched on top of its tall stalk, is both highly visible and completely unmistakeable for any dangerous alternative.
Hedgehog fungus (Hydnum repandum): Another ideal beginner’s mushroom, the hedgehog is at first difficult to find because it grows close to the ground in the grass below trees. When cut and turned over, its distinctive spines in place of gills are instantly recogniseable: better still, it is supremely tasty.
Deceiver (Laccaria laccata): This is highly edible, getting its alarming name from the extreme variability of its appearance. They begin as small, domed, ruddy-brown fungi, but then the cap flattens and inverts to produce a fluted goblet. They are well worth collecting because they grow in profusion and have a good, strong, flavour.
Cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa): This looks more like a brain or coral than its namesake and grows as a parasite on tree roots in conifer plantations. It is consistently voted among the best-flavoured mushrooms by guests.
Although the search is principally for edible species, we also find plenty of poisonous species. Here are a handful of the most exciting:
Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria): The classic ‘toadstool’ is both spectacularly beautiful and abundant. Although potentially fatal in large quantities, the muscarin it contains is more hallucinogenic than toxic. Mushroom hunters value it more for its visibility however, for it likes identical growing conditions to the much more exciting porcini. An outcrop of fly agaric is a good indicator that these delicious mushrooms may be growing nearby.
Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa): This wonderfully-named species is comparatively rare, but we still regularly find specimens on our walks through local woods. With its pure white cap and delicate veil, it gives the lie to the old wives’ tale that if a mushroom looks good, it is edible: just half an angel is enough to kill most adults.