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Where to find Tuscany Mushrooms?

funghi-porciniAt this time of year, one of the .favourite pastimes of people in and around Lucca is go into the woods and look for mushrooms.

Each mushroom grows in a particular habitat determined by climatic and weather conditions. Finding them depends on intuition, being observant and, to some extent, luck. Mushroom picking is regulated in Italy, with each region having different powers.

This is why a lot of regions have issued, or are in the process of issuing, legislative measures to regulate mushroom picking regionally. For example, the conditions under which one may pick mushrooms differ from region to region and, before setting off, people are advised to consult the appropriate authorities. Types of mushrooms: There are at least 37,000 different mushrooms and a vast amount that remain to be named.

Mushrooms can be divided into two main categories: edible and inedible. Within the first category, the mushrooms can be regrouped into "excellent" (especially good), "good" (with a pleasant taste) and "mediocre" (not particularly interesting from an eating point of view). Inedible mushrooms are divided into "harmless", "poisonous" and "deadly".

The first type are considered inedible because they have an unpleasant taste or disgusting smell so will not probably be eaten and even if they are taken accidentally are not dangerous. Poisonous mushrooms, which take up quite a large category, can have significant side effects if taken accidentally. Deadly mushrooms mean exactly what they sound like.

Fortunately there are few of this type. It is calculated that there are about 10,000 cases of poisoning through eating mushrooms in Europe per year. The symptoms vary from gastro-enteritis, irritation of the nervous system, paralysis, convulsions, vomiting, hallucinations, liver enlargement, a burning thirst and haemorrhages. Most symptoms appear within 30 hours of consuming the poison. Where to find them: Mushrooms are saprophytes, which grow in humus, rich in organic substance, or on tree trunks.

They produce neither flower nor fruit and reproduce via their spore – minuscule organisms which are invisible to the naked eye. So, the type of terrain, the vegetation, climatic conditions and the season all influ- ence growth.

One of the most important factors is the temperature of the terrain and the air. Earth which is dark and very humid and absorbs heat is ideal. When the first rains of autumn come, followed by a few days of sun and warm, wind-free nights, the conditions are optimum.

In the spring, however, some species can be found and during the winter even a covering of snow doesn't jeopardise the chances of finding some mushrooms. One species, called Dormienti in Italian, is so called because it sleeps under the snow. However, the majority are picked at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Uses: Mushrooms are used in the production of fermented cheese, antibiotics, vitamins, chemicals (citric acid, gallic acid and enzymes).

They are used to ferment alcohol, in the production of sugar and fats and even in making sawdust.

They have an importance too, along with bacteria, in helping to break down organic waste thus ensuring recycling through composts. It is only in relatively recent times that the nutritional value of the mushroom has come to light.

There are different ways of preserving mushrooms. They can be dried, put under oil or vinegar and, in some cases, frozen. Porcini mushrooms are extremely popular and prized around Lucca. They are used to make risotto, grilled using oil and lemon, served raw with salads or simply eaten on their own. Truffles, understandably used sparingly because of their high price, can be grated onto pasta.

There even exists an ice cream called "tartufo" which imitates the top part of a mushroom in shape and when brandy is poured over it and set alight, looks very impressive. The following recipe is a very popular starter and can be served on fried or toasted bread or on fried slices of polenta.


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