bolets – setas – wild mushrooms

A guide to food in Spain


bolets (Catalan for setas): wild mushrooms.

By Simon Rice
Catalans are fanatical about mushrooms, with hordes leaving the cities at weekends in autumn actually causing havoc to the locals. An enormous variety is collected, each one having its aficionados. There are numerous recipes for cooking mushrooms; the most common preparation is having them fried with the addition of garlic and parsley, often accompanied by grilled meats such as llonganisa . They are also used to enrich game dishes such as partridge and quail. The most common variety, seen in the shops from early September, is the rovelló, or in English, the bleeding milk cap. This mushroom is my favourite, not least because it is relatively foolproof to find in the forest! Some of the more squelchy varieties leave me a bit cold. It is said that pharmacists will identify one’s hoard, but precaution is to be practised at all times as errors can be fatal!! As well as wild mushrooms, ordinary cultivated mushrooms, xampinyons , cooked with lots of garlic are a popular tapas.

By Francis Barrett
Ordinary common-or-garden mushrooms {champiñones} are highly regarded all over Spain, and feature in many a stew or omelette.

Wild mushrooms and funghi are a peculiar obsession the Catalans share with the French. Tasty varieties include the rossiñol , ceps , llanegas , and the highly prized amanita cesárea , which has been known to fetch astronomical sums at auction. I believe truffles are also found in Catalunya.

The most popular fungus is a medium-sized orangey-browny mushroom called the rovelló or níscalo. Though shunned by most Spaniards, demand for rovellóns is so great in Catalunya that huge quantities have to be imported from other parts of Spain and abroad. There are factories in Soria which supply the Catalán demand for this fungus because most Sorianos wouldn’t dream of putting that treeweed in their mouth. Galicians use them for pigfeed. I’m not crazy about them either.

Then there are the strange black trompeta de la muerte [Trumpet of Death] and the pie de rata reina [Queen Rat’s Foot]. If the names sound like something out of a fairytale, they look more like something out of a horror story, especially when you find one unexpectedly in your stew.

During the months of October and November, thousands of Barcelona daytrippers pour into the Catalán countryside in search of wild mushrooms. They create 10km traffic jams every Sunday and often return home empty-handed. Looking for wild mushrooms has become so popular in Catalunya that even nasty black tree fungus is in danger of extinction. What is the cause of this fungal furore? . According to one self-confessed mushroom fiend, “It’s something to do with the flavour of the earth, something to do with the smell and above all because when you eat bolets it’s like having the taste of the forest on your tongue”. As for the picking, he claims that mushrooms bought in the market are no match for those “hunted” in the wild. “It’s a means of being in contact with nature in a useful way. When you live in the city it gives you a good motive for going out into the countryside. It unites you with your atavistic self”. The late great Catalán writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán said that the best reason to go mushroom picking is that it’s one of the few things left in the world that is free.

Berga is the self-proclaimed mushroom capital of Spain , and celebrates its annual Festa del Bolet with competitions and fireworks.

Mushrooms and truffles in the Basque Country.

The Basque Country is also a land of obsessive mycologists.

“Mushrooms are usually preferred grilled, baked, or scrambled with eggs, these methods being the best in order for one to appreciate the delicate flavors and textures of different species. Perhaps the most exquisite is the “perretxiku” (lyophylum georgii), so fragile that it will not bear sauces and is usually eaten scrambled with eggs. Lightly fried and then carefully blended with eggs, “ontto beltzak” (boletus edulis) are highly regarded” More here