Mushroom Hunting – An adventure in Catalonia

Hunting is both a popular sport in many parts of the World and a necessity in some others. Tracking and then stalking another creature appeals to the primal instinct in many of us. In many tribal societies it is the only way to put food in the bellies of their families; a necessity.

Mushroom hunting in the Catalan, Spain on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

One of my precious finds

Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and hunting fulfills an instinct still present in many. In Catalonia they have a more conservation friendly option; mushroom hunting. Whilst it does not involve having to pit your wits against another creature, there is a degree of stalking involved and mushroom hunters are a competitive bunch.

Fonda Xesc a Catalonian expert in mushroom hunting from Spain on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A man who knows his fungi

The mushroom hunters

It is almost an obsession for some in the Catalan region of Spain and whilst visiting Girona recently the opportunity to give it a try arose. It had been arranged as part of a press trip by the region’s tourism board and those present were fortunate to have the services of chef, restauranteur and mushroom expert chef Xesc.

After initial introductions, we were taken to a mixed deciduous and coniferous wood on a hillside located close to Gombrèn where his restaurant Fonda Xesc is located. We were given an extensive brief by our host and it soon became clear that what he does not know about fungi is not worth knowing. Without further ado we were issued some baskets and sent off to ‘hunt’ for mushrooms.

Fonda Xesc restaurant in Gombrèn, Catalan on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Our mushroom hunting baskets await

Caution is obviously necessary whenever foraging for edible fungi and if in doubt leave well alone, this advice rang in my ears from previously attended survival courses. The prize find would be a large mushroom known locally as cep, though  rovello, pintells and fredolics are other highly sought fungi.

This area is apparently popular as a mushroom hunting ground but alas we were unfortunate that the weather had not been kind from the ‘hunters’ point of view. There had not been any recent rain which meant despite looking in all the recommended terrain there was not a lot to find.

The mushroom stalkers

It still had a feel of an adventure however. Deciding to get away from the main group I was soon way up the slope poking around the bases of trees, seeking slightly damp ground and anywhere with a little shade. It actually had a feeling of ‘stalking’ the fungi, more accurately stalking potential ‘hotspots’ where they may grow.

Cooking the results of our mushroom hunting in Gombrèn restaurant in the Spanish Catalan on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

What its all about

Clambering through the low branches, peeking around trunks of the variety of trees these mushrooms are pretty elusive. Most trees were beginning to shed their leaves but although fungi were in short supply if felt as if I discovered every prickly branch in the wood.

Even so there was not a great deal to show for the scratches and twigs which almost poked me in the eye or the small forest hanging from my backpack. Before long however the rest of the party were back at the bus and I could hear my name being called.  The result of my lone foraging was just three large but apparently not prized mushrooms tightly clunched in my hand.

Our merry band of mushroom hunters had not been especially successful with only a few smallish mushrooms appearing lost in the bottom of the embarrassingly large baskets. The prime locations of successful hunters are closely guarded secrets but I doubt any of them need worry that we mistakenly stumbled upon one of these ‘treasure’ troves.

The mushroom eaters

After our unsuccessful hunt we were treated to a great mushroom lunch at  Fonda Xesc. Fortunately for us chef Xesc does not have an ‘only eat what is found’ policy and did not rely on us to provide the restaurant’s supply of mushrooms for that day. At least we were successful fungi eaters.

My hunter-gatherer skills did not receive a credibility boost from this visit. However it was good fun and when conditions are more favourable with the mushrooms a little easier to find it must be quite satisfying. Discovering a secret stash of prime fungi is probably even exciting, but I am going to stop there before my credibility is further damaged.

Hazard of mushroom hunting? A bull near Gombrèn in Catalonia. Spain on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Wonder if he’d eaten all our fungi

Do not be put off however, I would recommend giving a mushroom hunting expedition a try, maybe even participate in the annual festival, which combines picking with eating. Even if not proving any more successful than us, the scenery of the Pyrenees is beautiful and there will still be plenty of mushrooms for everyone later.

Not about to eat the results of our mushroom huniting in Spanish, Catalonia on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Waiting for lunch, it all ended well

Very grateful to Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona for organising this trip however all mushroom stalking and foraging opinions are entirely my own.

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  1. Paige AllOvertheMap

    Looks wonderful! One of my favorite food memories involves freshly foraged mushrooms in Slovakia. Have you tried mushroom hunting anywhere else? I’ve been wanting to try truffle hunting in the Piedmont region of Italy.

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      Iain

      Not really Paige my only experience before has been on survival courses with the military, which is not quite the same. Also used to have edible mushrooms grow outside my house in South Wales

  2. Tom Bartel

    Just spent 40 days marching the Camino de Santiago and ran across mushroom hunters all through Navarra and Galicia. If I’d had anywhere to cook them, I’d have joined in. However, I did content myself with ordering the setas in several restaurants along the way.

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      Iain

      That must have been quite an adventure Tom. To be honest with you, eating them is still better than hunting them, but keep that between just you and I 😉

  3. Beth Yost

    Who knew it was so competitive and such strategy was involved? It always sounds so romantic–foraging for your own food in the hills of a European country, even if it is just for fungi. =)

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      Iain

      Oh yes Beth once a good site is discovered the ‘hunters’ guard their secret stashes very closely indeed. I really enjoyed my hour or so of mushroom hunting.

  4. Natalie

    I watched a programme the other day on mushrooms. It seems they are quite a focal point in some cultures and also in most cuisines. The program finished with telling you how to grow your own mushrooms on a tree bark!

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      Iain

      Oh yeah Natalie mushrooms really are a massive part of some cultures, especially the cuisine, meaty mushrooms can often entirely replace our normal first choice of meat on many a menu. Awesome about the mushroom growing tip, are you going to give it a try?

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      Iain

      It is great fun Mary I hope you get to try it one day and that the conditions are suitable so you actually find some decent mushrooms.

  5. Berta

    I am Catalan and always lived in a tiny village. There, as you said, hunting for mushrooms is an obsession. People hide in the forest and always tell you they didn’t find any only to demotivate you! (yes, crazy…!). There are even contests of mushroom hunters (they can even gather 30 kg!). And each person knows a secret place to go and get them, they usually grow in the same places (and you never tell the others, not even your family!). It is a really funny experience, I have to say 🙂 Best mushroom for me, Rovelló, grilled, no doubt about that :p

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