Greece has a wonderful variety of mushrooms, and in more recent years has become a prime spot for cultivation of high quality truffles. It has also been found to be prime ground for hinting wild ones. Of course, regions favorable to the cultivation of truffles and mushrooms abound in other delights- mountain air, forests, rich soil, and unspoiled beauty. Greece has two magnificent destinations for a novel sort of gastronomic tourism, ideal for those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and working up an appetite in the mountains before they sit down to a serious gourmet meal.
Greece’s wealth of Fungi: the mushrooms and truffles near Zagori and Grevena
A wealth of mushroom varieties
Mushroom foraging requires expertise- there are far more than 2,000 varieties of mushrooms in Greece, but fewer than ten percent of these are edible. Even that much smaller number is impressive- an astonishing variety of shape, color, texture, and aroma that will delight connoisseurs. Some of the most famous and prized varieties thrive here.
These include porcini mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, trumpet mushrooms (yellow and black).There are also the exotically named and beautifully orange colored amanita caesarea (one of the few edible varieties of amanita mushrooms)– more commonly known as “Caesar’s mushroom” and the macrolepiota procera- “parasol mushrooms”, and many, many others.
Foraging is also serious business. Some of these varieties fetch astonishing prices. Morels and chanterelles are on the menus of the worlds’ finest restaurants.
Exploring the fragrant wonders of Grevena
Northeast of the Pindos mountains at an elevation of 530 meters, the prefecture of Grevena is prime mushroom foraging territory. The wealth of the region is celebrated in mushroom festivals towards the end of August. But they are enjoyed year round and most especially in the cooler months when their rich aroma suits cold weather dishes.
Don’t imagine the mushroom’s use to only savory: there are also mushroom spoon sweets, liqueurs, and even loukoumia. The culinary potential of the mushroom is explored by the chefs at Avlais- a restaurant specializing in fungi. Many other rustic local restaurants also serve wonderful mushroom dishes.
Truffles — the most fragrant of treasures
Much more costly, mysterious, and rare in the fungi community are truffles. The truffle is a legendary foodstuff. The richness of its aroma is intoxicating (perhaps this is why it was prized as an aphrodisiac in Ancient Greece and Rome) and unforgettable, yet so delicate. The truffle is a hypogeous fungi- meaning simply a fungi below the ground, and mycologists (botanists specializing in fungi) name ten Greek varieties.
For man, and beast
We are not the only species who prize truffles. They were formerly hunted by trained pigs- females only; the truffle’s slightly musky aroma is very similar to a substance secreted by boars, intended for courting females. The problem with pigs is that they are so eager to claim the truffle that they destroyed the delicate truffle bed in the process.
Dogs are more effective- they can locate the precious find and are happy with a small treat as a reward. Greek truffles are hunted by dogs- the Lagotto Romangolo breed has a particularly fine truffle nose but other dogs too can be trained- adding to the delight of the experience!
Truffle Hunting in Zagori
Here by the Pindus mountains in Eipirus, truffle hunts can be arranged. Trained dogs and human experts can accompany you. Alone or in small groups, you can explore the glorious forests of the National Park and of the UNESCO Geopark of Vikos-Aoos, prime truffle-hunting ground.
A Total Experience
An education about the truffles’ natural habitat and their cultivation makes the experience more enriching. Your fragrant harvest can become a memorable gastronomic experience- fresh from the earth, the fragrant harvest can be cooked and enjoyed in these beautiful surroundings. Here in the forests, invigorated from the fresh mountain air and the exercise, you can experience one of Greece’s most elegant yet satisfyingly primal gastronomic treasures.
Have you ever dined on a variety of mushrooms, or gone truffle hunting?