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Oregon's Mad for Mushrooms!

September 6, 2011

CRESCENT, Ore. - For many Oregon locavores, it wouldn't be fall without foraging for wild mushrooms. The action begins today - opening day for harvesting matsutake mushrooms in four of Oregon's national forests.

The prized matsutake, or pine mushroom, grows wild in Oregon forests and is an expensive delicacy in Asian countries. Commercial mushroom hunters and individuals are lining up to get their permits in the Deschutes, Fremont-Winema, Umpqua and Willamette national forests.

They're simple to harvest but hard to find. Matsutakes grow in carpets of pine needles, says Danny Weinrich, special forest products technician at the Deschutes National Forest's Crescent Ranger District. He says it's important to keep those areas intact so they'll produce a mushroom crop from year to year.

"It's kind of like hunting Easter eggs. It takes a lot of walking and looking - and they can hide from you. When you pick them, you want to cut them and get the mushroom, but you don't want to go through and rake in the whole area, because that's what destroys the seed."

If you can't hunt for mushrooms this week, don't worry. Weinrich suspects the harvest might improve when the weather gets colder. For individuals, a permit costs $8 a day, with a five-day minimum...or $100 for a half-season, which is about a month. The full season lasts 62 days. Permits can be purchased at the ranger district offices.

If you're not inclined to harvest your own, you can find matsutakes this time of year on upscale restaurant menus. Their distinctive pine aroma makes them a favorite of chefs such as Justin Wills at Restaurant Beck in Depoe Bay.

"They're a very versatile mushroom. You can do anything from pickle them to just grill them, saute them, marinate them overnight and then roast them. They're very firm; it adds a great amount of flavor to whatever you're going to pair it with. And they're also great by themselves."

Wills and local matsutakes will be part of Lincoln City's Wild Mushroom Cook-off weekend, starting Sept. 30. More information is online at oregoncoast.org/wild-mushroom-cook-off.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR