Way back in the 60’s, and we’re talking the 1860’s here, when Italian immigrants first came to California’s North Coast, they must surely have noticed that the wild boletus mushrooms they called Porcinis (apparently because they resemble little pigs), were quite abundant in area forests. Stll, it took another century or so for porcinis and other wild mushrooms to become an integral part of the local culinary culture.
Eric Schramm, was one of the first to commercially forage local mushrooms in Mendocino county.
“I really had to search thirty years ago to find people who wanted my mushrooms”, recalls. Schramm, an ex-forest ranger, who in 1983 discovered the presence of the prized Matsutake mushroom in the county.
Today things are different and Schramm’s mushrooms area in constant demand from a world-wide community of chefs. He now only faces a figurative uphill battle in raising awareness about his actual uphill battles gathering up a seasonal bounty of Chanterelles, Black Trumpets, Morels, Matsutakes and the Candy Caps so highly prized by chefs for their maple-syrupy flavor.
“People still think of mushroom-picking as taking out a little basket and strolling through the forest. Well they’ve never put a 70 pound pack of mushrooms on their back on a 70 degree slope with trees and brush and slippery footing and tried to hike three miles out. Its not an easy thing to do.”
Schramm also teaches novice mushroom-pickers or “rain-chasers” as they are sometimes called, how to forage the forests of California’s north coast, providing them the skills necessary to earn a decent day’s wage in times of financial and environmental uncertainty.