Friday, September 30, 2011

Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare)

Season: September - October
Edibility: Unique and delicious.  Not for beginners due to potential confusion with dangerous species.
Defining characteristics: Found near Eastern Hemlock and Jack Pine (at least in the new england region). Intense aroma that is decidedly Matsutake- think a combination of spicy cinnamon and musty socks.  I am not aware of any other mushroom that smells like this- rich, earthy, spicy, and almost intoxicating.  Growing very close to the ground, often with the stem several inches deep.  A veil covers the gills when immature, leaving a ring on the mature mushroom.  There are often dark markings/stains on the cap and base of the stem.

Young and mature Matsutake.  Note the ring on the
specimen on the right, and veil on the left.
Matsutake is one of the most highly sought after mushrooms in Japan.  The unique aroma, taste, and beauty of this mushroom have led to it being valued at hundreds of dollars a pound in Japan for prime specimens (young with a full veil and in pristine condition).  The primary commercial harvesting areas are in the Pacific Northwest, however there are Matsutake to find here in New England.  I have not found them in Rhode Island yet, but they are reported to be found on Cape Cod, and I have found them in Maine.  They are also reported to be fairly common in parts of Quebec.

High quality Matsutake next to a couple just starting to poke
out of the ground (this is a good stage to harvest them at)
You definitely want to be careful with identifying Matsutake.  There is a condition known as mushroom collecting fever, where an excited forager thinks every mushroom they find just happens to be the long sought after delicious delicacy, with little regard to checking its defining characteristics.  I only ate Matsutake that I collected after three years of searching for, and finding them.  The first two years I collected what I thought where Matsutake (and now know they actually where), took photos, and read up on them.  I was not fully convinced so I chose not to eat them.  It wasn't until this year when I found the same mushrooms growing in the same spots, with the same aroma, and a couple more years of accumulated wisdom that I finally was sure of what I had.
Matsutake on the left, golden chanterelles on the right.

They are delicious, and the aroma is amazing.  A little bit stinky, a little bit spicy, and a lot heady.  After sautéing in a bit of butter and a dash of salt it is without comparison.  There is a firm texture with a taste that is very complex.  It is hard to describe it except as Matsutake-like.

David Spahr has an excellent description of the Northeastern Matsutake on his website, and you can also read more at the Mushroom Expert or Tom Volk's website.


gabagool said...

THIS is the mushroom that interests me the most. So far, I know that I have to look for hemlocks, and the ground should contain marble or limestone....right??

I have been looking for hemlocks, around water (which is supposed to be a plus) and I have found a few patches. Supposedly the hemlokc is the 4rth most populous tree in CT.

The description of the taste intrigues me, Im psyched to start looking....any other clues, pointers?? Thanks.

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