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Funky Fungi and Fulsome Wines Call for a Harvest Fest


A mushroom devotee catches a whiff of one mighty fungus. Copyright Doug LarsonSavvy outlanders never need an excuse for a trek to the gorgeous Mendocino Coast, with its towering redwood forests, thundering waves, and mile after mile of driftwood-strewn beaches. When you add to this heady mix an abundant assortment of top-tier inns, a dozen or so cutting-edge restaurants, and a few of California’s best wineries, it’s easy to see why the area is so popular.

It’s tops with locals, too, who like their home turf so much that they’re forever finding new ways to show it off. A recent case in point was November’s Mendocino Wine & Mushroom Fest. For 11 straight days, just about everybody in Mendocino County (or so it seemed) pulled out all the stops to celebrate these two superb products of the region. Some of California’s great vineyards reside in and about the Anderson Valley, after all, and the surrounding forests and coastal fogs produce abundant crops of wild mushrooms (supplemented by companies such as Sebastopol’s Gourmet Mushrooms, which cultivates shitake, oyster, pom pom, clam shell and cinnamon cap fungi).

"But," you may be asking yourself, "how can anybody celebrate mushrooms for almost two weeks? Wine, sure, that’s a snap, but…mushrooms?"

The range of sizes, colors, shapes and textures of local mushrooms is astounding. Copyright Larry WagnerActually, it couldn’t have been easier. Turns out that the humble ’shroom has a lot going for it. Not only are numerous varieties delicious enough to eat on their own -- simply sautéed in, say, a bit of olive oil and garlic, and served on a toasted slice of sourdough -- but they can also serve as delectable complements to fish, fowl, beef and game. Even better, wine and mushrooms, when served together, profoundly complement each other.

Botelus edulus (aka, porcini or cepes) and chanterelles were readily found in the nearby woods at this season and appeared frequently on menus. Other entrants included their cultivated kin -- shitake, portobello, oysters, enoki, and others. Wild or farmed, each variety possesses its own distinct flavor, which is nothing at all like any other mushroom. Each, too, has a unique, illusive texture -- perhaps crunchy, or meaty, or slippery, or downy-soft -- that adds an entirely new sensate dimension to the simple act of chewing.

But back to the Fest. As you’d expect, there were wine tastings galore, held in cafés, restaurants, B&Bs, hotels, inns -- you name it. But, surprisingly, wine seemed to take a back seat to mushrooms. People talked about mushrooms nonstop. There were mushroom cooking demonstrations and classes, mushroom walks led by professional mycologists, and even a mushroom dyeing and papermaking class. Everywhere you went you saw mushroom photography, displays of wild mushrooms, and books about mushrooms.

The mighty steam-powered train rounds a bend. Copyright Larry WagnerThe Fest’s most elaborate undertaking was a daylong symposium dedicated to mushrooms and wine. To get to the meeting place, a summer camp buried deep in the redwoods, the hundred or so participants boarded the 19th century Fort Bragg/Willits Skunk Train, which is pulled by a wonderfully noisy old-fashioned steam locomotive. During the day they heard talks with titles like "Stalking the Wild Mushroom" and "The Life Cycle of the Mushroom," participated in a Q&A with area chefs, hunted for fungi, and saw a slide show. They also ate a lot of delicious mushrooms and drank excellent local wines from vineyards like Husch, Claudia Springs, and Fife.

Actually, eating mushroom-inspired food and washing it down with local wines played a big, big role in the Fest, and nary a soul complained. Many local restaurants joined in the fun by offering imaginative mushroom menus. The Thatcher Inn held a Mushroom Happy Hour. Redwood Valley Cellars dished up a seven-course feast, "Fungi Salvatico E Vino." The Inn at Schoolhouse Creek served Japanese Obento box lunches centered around enoki and shitake mushrooms. The Ravens offered a fixed price all-vegetarian mushroom menu. St. Orres’ energetic chef, Rosemary Campiformio, produced a stunning "wild" dinner, using mushrooms she’d picked herself.

Of particular note were the many winemaker dinners, in which mushroom-based dishes were paired with specific local wines. MacCallum House Restaurant teamed such meals with Enotria and Monte Volpe wines; the Mendocino Hotel with Brutocao Cellars; St. Orres with Pacific Echo. Other matings included Pangaea/Fife Vineyards, Stevenswood Lodge/Pacific Star Winery, Victorian Gardens/Yorkville Cellars, Café Beaujolais/Handley Cellars, and Old Milano Hotel/McDowell Valley Vineyards.

Boletes mushrooms can grow to the size of small children. Copyright Larry WagnerFor those who only had time to attend a single event, the best choice was definitely the Wine & Mushroom Reception held at The Company Store in Fort Bragg. After paying $20 at the door, you were handed a wineglass that could be filled as often as you liked from the obliging vintners and brewers who’d set up tables inside. About 20 local chefs contributed mushroom hors d’oeuvres that drew enthusiastic ahs and oohs from the crowd. One table held an astonishing variety of stuffed mushrooms (the most imaginative and delicious of these was the Albion River Inn’s roasted shitake rolled around rock shrimp, parmesan and basil). My favorite tidbit of all, from the Ledford House Restaurant, was a parmesan crisp topped by duck confit and chantrelle mushrooms—heavenly!

Luckily for us, the chefs generously set out recipes for their hors d’oeuvres, and I’ve included a few here. So, even though this year’s Mendocino’s Wine & Mushroom Fest is now a thing of the past, you can recreate a little piece of it in your own kitchen.

By the way, Mendocino will be holding its Crab & Wine Days from January 26-February 4, 2001. This promises to be another great experience, and you can learn more about it at www.Go-Mendo.com.

Whatever you do, Eat Happy.

RECIPES FROM MENDOCINO’S WINE & MUSHROOM FEST

WILD MUSHROOM CROSTINI

Thanks to the Joshua Grindle Inn for this recipe

Makes approximately 24 crostini

5 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds wild mushrooms—trimmed, brushed clean, and finely chopped
1/3 cup finely diced shallots
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
2 cups Mendocino County dry white wine
one baguette

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until golden, about 10 minutes. Add shallots, garlic and herbs and saute two minutes longer, taking care not to let the garlic brown. Add wine, and simmer until mushrooms are tender and liquid has thickened.

Slice baguette thinly and brush each side of the slices with remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Grill bread (or toast in oven), turning once, until toasted on both sides. Serve mushrooms on grilled baguette slices.

——————

SWEET SIMMERED MUSHROOMS

Thanks to Chef Cheri Graham, Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, for this recipe

SERVES 2

4 medium to large dried shitake mushrooms

Simmering Sauce:

1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
1/2 teaspoon dashi-no-moto powder

Place mushrooms in a medium bowl and add warm water to cover. Soak mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes.

Prepare Simmering Sauce by combining all ingredients together in a saucepan.

After 30 minutes of soaking, drain mushrooms and squeeze them dry. Cut off and discard tough stems.

Add mushrooms to Simmering Sauce and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer mushrooms 15 to 20 minutes, or until liquid has almost all evaporated and mushrooms are well coated with the sauce. Divide mushrooms and any remaining sauce between two small serving bowls.

——————

WILD ABOUT MENDOCINO MUSHROOM PATÉ

Thanks to Reed Manor for this recipe

¾ pound soft butter, divided
1 pound chicken livers
1 pound fresh shiitake or oyster mushrooms, trimmed and brushed clean
½ cup chopped green onions
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup cognac, optional
parsley sprigs for garnish
crackers or baguette slices

Melt 1/4 pound of the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. When foam subsides, sauté chicken livers and mushrooms until livers are no longer pink. Remove livers and mushrooms to a food processor or blender, using a slotted spoon and leaving liquid in the skillet.

Boil the liquid remaining in skillet until it has reduced and thickened. Add reduced liquid to livers and mushrooms in processor, along with green onions, the remaining 1/2 pound butter, thyme, salt, and nutmeg (and cognac, if desired). Blend paté until smooth.

Pour paté into a 3-cup mold that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm. Unmold onto a serving plate and garnish with parsley. Serve with crackers or baguette slices.

——————

WARM SPINACH SALAD WITH MUSHROOMS, CABBAGE AND BACON

Thanks to Chef Silver Canul, Little River Inn, for this recipe

Serves 4

3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped shallots
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons crispy chopped bacon
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup shredded red cabbage
3 large handfuls baby spinach leaves
¼ cup crumbled feta or Gorgonzola cheese

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. When it begins to smoke, add the shallots, garlic, bacon, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and remove the pan from the burner.

Mix the red cabbage and spinach together and add to the sauté pan. Place the pan over medium heat for about 1 minute, and serve immediately, garnished with crumbled gorgonzola or feta cheese.

Actually, eating mushroom-inspired food and washing it down with local wines played a big, big role in the Fest, and nary a soul complained. Many local restaurants joined in the fun by offering imaginative mushroom menus. The Thatcher Inn held a Mushroom Happy Hour. Redwood Valley Cellars dished up a seven-course feast, "Fungi Salvatico E Vino." The Inn at Schoolhouse Creek served Japanese Obento box lunches centered around enoki and shitake mushrooms. The Ravens offered a fixed price all-vegetarian mushroom menu. St. Orres’ energetic chef, Rosemary Campiformio, produced a stunning "wild" dinner, using mushrooms she’d picked herself.

Of particular note were the many winemaker dinners, in which mushroom-based dishes were paired with specific local wines. MacCallum House Restaurant teamed such meals with Enotria and Monte Volpe wines; the Mendocino Hotel with Brutocao Cellars; St. Orres with Pacific Echo. Other matings included Pangaea/Fife Vineyards, Stevenswood Lodge/Pacific Star Winery, Victorian Gardens/Yorkville Cellars, Café Beaujolais/Handley Cellars, and Old Milano Hotel/McDowell Valley Vineyards.

Boletes mushrooms can grow to the size of small children. Copyright Larry WagnerFor those who only had time to attend a single event, the best choice was definitely the Wine & Mushroom Reception held at The Company Store in Fort Bragg. After paying $20 at the door, you were handed a wineglass that could be filled as often as you liked from the obliging vintners and brewers who’d set up tables inside. About 20 local chefs contributed mushroom hors d’oeuvres that drew enthusiastic ahs and oohs from the crowd. One table held an astonishing variety of stuffed mushrooms (the most imaginative and delicious of these was the Albion River Inn’s roasted shitake rolled around rock shrimp, parmesan and basil). My favorite tidbit of all, from the Ledford House Restaurant, was a parmesan crisp topped by duck confit and chantrelle mushrooms—heavenly!

Luckily for us, the chefs generously set out recipes for their hors d’oeuvres, and I’ve included a few here. So, even though this year’s Mendocino’s Wine & Mushroom Fest is now a thing of the past, you can recreate a little piece of it in your own kitchen.

By the way, Mendocino will be holding its Crab & Wine Days from January 26-February 4, 2001. This promises to be another great experience, and you can learn more about it at www.Go-Mendo.com.

Whatever you do, Eat Happy.

RECIPES FROM MENDOCINO’S WINE & MUSHROOM FEST

WILD MUSHROOM CROSTINI

Thanks to the Joshua Grindle Inn for this recipe

Makes approximately 24 crostini

5 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds wild mushrooms—trimmed, brushed clean, and finely chopped
1/3 cup finely diced shallots
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
2 cups Mendocino County dry white wine
one baguette

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until golden, about 10 minutes. Add shallots, garlic and herbs and saute two minutes longer, taking care not to let the garlic brown. Add wine, and simmer until mushrooms are tender and liquid has thickened.

Slice baguette thinly and brush each side of the slices with remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Grill bread (or toast in oven), turning once, until toasted on both sides. Serve mushrooms on grilled baguette slices.

——————

SWEET SIMMERED MUSHROOMS

Thanks to Chef Cheri Graham, Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, for this recipe

SERVES 2

4 medium to large dried shitake mushrooms

Simmering Sauce:

1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
1/2 teaspoon dashi-no-moto powder

Place mushrooms in a medium bowl and add warm water to cover. Soak mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes.

Prepare Simmering Sauce by combining all ingredients together in a saucepan.

After 30 minutes of soaking, drain mushrooms and squeeze them dry. Cut off and discard tough stems.

Add mushrooms to Simmering Sauce and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer mushrooms 15 to 20 minutes, or until liquid has almost all evaporated and mushrooms are well coated with the sauce. Divide mushrooms and any remaining sauce between two small serving bowls.

——————

WILD ABOUT MENDOCINO MUSHROOM PATÉ

Thanks to Reed Manor for this recipe

¾ pound soft butter, divided
1 pound chicken livers
1 pound fresh shiitake or oyster mushrooms, trimmed and brushed clean
½ cup chopped green onions
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup cognac, optional
parsley sprigs for garnish
crackers or baguette slices

Melt 1/4 pound of the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. When foam subsides, sauté chicken livers and mushrooms until livers are no longer pink. Remove livers and mushrooms to a food processor or blender, using a slotted spoon and leaving liquid in the skillet.

Boil the liquid remaining in skillet until it has reduced and thickened. Add reduced liquid to livers and mushrooms in processor, along with green onions, the remaining 1/2 pound butter, thyme, salt, and nutmeg (and cognac, if desired). Blend paté until smooth.

Pour paté into a 3-cup mold that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm. Unmold onto a serving plate and garnish with parsley. Serve with crackers or baguette slices.

——————

WARM SPINACH SALAD WITH MUSHROOMS, CABBAGE AND BACON

Thanks to Chef Silver Canul, Little River Inn, for this recipe

Serves 4

3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped shallots
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons crispy chopped bacon
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup shredded red cabbage
3 large handfuls baby spinach leaves
¼ cup crumbled feta or Gorgonzola cheese

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. When it begins to smoke, add the shallots, garlic, bacon, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and remove the pan from the burner.

Mix the red cabbage and spinach together and add to the sauté pan. Place the pan over medium heat for about 1 minute, and serve immediately, garnished with crumbled gorgonzola or feta cheese.