9th Annual Mushroom & Wine Dinner hosted by Purgatory Resort

Purgatory Resort hosting mushroom dinner, hunt

Ah, those mysterious, bulbous bits of fungi that burst unbidden from moist, forested lands, so delectable and yet so potentially dangerous. Finding, identifying, preparing and eating mushrooms are the heart of the Ninth Annual Mushroom & Wine Dinner at Purgatory Resort in Durango, Colorado, on Aug. 19, followed on Aug. 21 with a Wild Mushroom Hunt with a local expert. Right now the events are sold out, but visit purgatory.ski/events to be put on the waiting list.

“We’ll be walking through the forest up at 10,000 feet,” said foray leader Brady Wilson, who is recognized by Colorado as a wild mushroom identification expert. “We’ll be picking various species to identify at a table. The walk is very gentle, very gradual up and down hills, but mostly flat. We will be going over basic techniques for sustainable harvests, going over general guidelines about identification and offering suggestions about what to avoid.

The hunt will be for elusive chanterelle, and porcini or King Bolete mushrooms, Wilson said.

“They are the two most highly prized mushrooms that are out there,” he said. “At this point, I guarantee that we will find them. It’s turning out to be a good (rainy) season. All of the signs are pointing toward it.”

The specific target sites will range between 10,000 and 11,000 feet in mixed conifer, Wilson said. Generally in disturbed forested areas like logging roads and ski mountain trails, usually at the margins of the forest where it meets meadows.

Properly identifying each mushroom is paramount, he added, noting that newcomers to mushroom foraging should consult at least one if not three guidebooks that are well diagrammed and photographed with proper descriptive nomenclature for the mushrooms’ parts.

Chanterelles are characterized by a yellow-to-bright-orange cap that can be as much as six inches in diameter. It is generally flat, although it can be slightly convex or concave. They grow in large patches of 50 to 200.

“They have a delicate aroma of apricot and they are absolutely beautiful,” Wilson said. “Those of us who are patient and willing allow the small chanterelles time to grow to their maximum potential will be rewarded. But it’s a risky game to play. If we leave a patch, we could be leaving it for potentially the next individual to pick them because most people don’t exercise the same patience.”

King Boletes, however, are better picked young because they can be susceptible to insect infestation.

The caps vary in color from yellow to dark purple and can get as large as 12 inches in diameter. The cap is convex and usually is buff in texture and not slimy unless it is wet due to rain.

The stem is white and bulbous at the base and often the base of the stem is equal in diameter to the diameter of the cap. The stem will contain a white, veiny, web-like imprint. A distinctive distinguishing characteristic are the stem gills – which are really pores – which will be white when young and yellow to green as they age.

At the Mushroom & Wine Dinner, the meal gives people an idea of just what can be accomplished with mushrooms, said chef Joe Albright, Purgatory food and beverage director.

“My approach is, since we do wine pairings, is taste a bunch of wine, pick out some good ones, pick out some good strong wines, usually one that I can play against with the food,” he said. “One that has good dessert capabilities and two that knock your socks off that I can serve whatever I like with it. I sculpt the dishes around it with mushrooms in mind, hoping they can become the star.”

One of his favorite methods is pickling the chanterelles, although last year, Albright made porcini bacon by curing and smoking thin slices. They were then wrapped around dates for a delightful treat.

“We use the mushrooms in multiple ways and let them shine,” he said. I think we really nail it like 90% of the time.”

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