I’m not a big fan of autumn, winter, grey skies, and rain. Every year, I eagerly wait for summer to arrive. But even I must admit that there are some positives to the cold, wet weather – one of them being wild mushrooms.
A couple of weeks ago, the Boys and I headed down to T'Gallant for a mushroom hunt. It had been raining heavily the night before and we showed up to find that almost everyone else had gumboots on. Uh oh! Were we going to be under prepared? Trust me, if we had owned a pair of gumboots, I would have brought them, but we live in Melbourne.... where it rarely rains for more than 30 minutes. So gumboots have always seemed like a stupid thing to buy. But maybe that’s just envy talking because everyone else was so prepared!
For the first part of the day, we spent an hour looking for mushrooms – specifically pine mushrooms / saffron milk-caps and slippery jacks. Our guide took us out of the winery, talking us through the characteristics of saffron milk-caps and slippery jacks. We walked up the road for about ten minutes, and then entered private property (under prior arrangement with the land owner). Fortunately, while there was a fair bit of mud, gumboots weren’t actually required – just careful footing so we didn’t go arse over t.... :)
Saffron milk-caps grow under pine trees, with which they have a mycorrhizal (symbiotic) association. They have a firm carrot orange cap, which is convex to vase shaped, a hollow stem, and when cut or bruised, they bleed a red-orange milk.
Slippery jacks have a slimy brown cap, with the underside being light-yellow and spongey. This particular one had deteriorated from age and insects - we found much better looking ones later on.
There were tons of mushrooms at this property – the autumn rains had obviously created the right conditions for the mushrooms to flourish. There were also plenty of toadstools too – poisonous unfortunately, but very pretty.
Obviously, you need to know what you’re doing when picking wild mushrooms. While I feel the session gave me an idea of what to look for regarding saffron milk caps and slippery jacks, I certainly wouldn’t go foraging for them myself without an educated guide or having an expert look over them. So – warning! At T’Gallant there were posters on the wall with pictures and descriptions of edible and poisonous fungi around the world. I was particularly intrigued by one mushroom that is very poisonous – but the symptoms of poisoning only show up 3-4 weeks after ingestion. And some toxic mushrooms can cause organ failure. Shudder!
When we had picked a basket’s worth of mushrooms, we headed back to the winery. Back at T-Gallant, we tasted some wines, and then sat down to a cooking demonstration and lunch, accompanied by two glasses of wine. (The price for the mushroom forage plus food and wine was $75pp.)
During our wine tasting, we had a little snack of mushroom pate on toasts with parmesan and balsamic vinegar. We were starving by this stage, so the little snack was very welcome!
After we had tasted the wines, we headed into the demonstration kitchen and were served a fantastic mushroom soup. It was a shame it was served in a paper cup because this was a soup to be savoured. It was thick and hearty, and packed with an intense mushroom flavour, probably helped by the fact that it was made with a generous amount of dried forest mushrooms as well as fresh mushrooms.
The mushrooms that had been picked in the morning were cleaned and then barbequed. I found them quite fleshy and meaty, with the Slippery Jacks having an interesting spongey texture.
After the soup, out came a mushroom and onion pizza. The mushrooms and onions had been sliced thinly and baked on top of a thin, crispy base.
This was a very simple salad topped with parmesan. It had a tangy, rather addictive dressing.
We had a mushroom tarte tartin, made from a mixture of different mushrooms - button, small swiss brown and oyster, and puff pastry.
And our last savoury dish was a mushroom rigatoni with pine nuts and mascarpone. This was a simple dish cooked well. The pasta had a good meaty mushroom flavour, and the pine nuts gave a bit of crunchy and nuttiness.
And dessert was brown sugar meringues with ice cream – that were plated to look like mushrooms! Cute! The meringues had dark sugary notes similar to molasses/treacle, and the ice cream tasted a bit orangey, possibly due to orange blossom water? It was a sweet way of ending the afternoon, and also a creative way of dealing with the mushroom theme!
On the way out, we spotted the winery cat hanging out on a display shelf. It was a (much) slimmer version of one of our cats – awww.
We had a fun afternoon and I enjoyed both the mushroom hunting and the food back at the winery. Unfortunately we attended the last mushroom session for the year, but I believe they run them every year around May/June. They book out very quickly, so keep an eye out next year if you’re interested.
1385 Mornington-Flinders Road
Main Ridge 3928
Phone: 03 5989 6565