The perfect porcini is a thing of beauty. Long prized for their intense and robust flavor, they can be found around the world, amping up many a dish in a restaurant, along with its price point. These guys are expensive and good porcini are hard to come by, however, one little town in Italy has a veritable cornucopia of them, in such quantity and with such high quality, that they are protected by the IGP. Welcome to Borgotaro.
If you are fortunate enough to be there in September for their Porcini Mushroom Festival, you might be able to procure a license to go forage for the famed mushroom yourself in the chestnut tree filled mountains that surround the valley. You can go in alone, much good it may do you, but if you’re smart you’ll take a guide with you, and if you’re lucky you’ll call Davide Costa. Davide is an official environmentalist guide that knows these mountains better than anyone, and beyond being able to tell you what all the different variety of fungi are around you, he can also tell you bring you to the best places to find them. Considering that there can be tens of thousands of porcini hunters in these hills, having a little local, secret knowledge is definitely a feather in anyone’s cap.
What is even more special about Davide is his intimate relation to this region. After a beautiful trek through the mountains we drove up even higher to the tiny town of Tiedoli, which isn’t much more than a unique two towered church, bar, and a smattering of stone homes. Here however in the bar, was a special little oddity; a framed and signed picture of actor James Gandolfini. This little town was where his family came from generations ago, and one day, shortly before he passed away, he came to visit alone to see his homeland. What is funny is the people here really didn’t know who he was since at the time he wasn’t really famous in Italy, but just the same were proud to show him the region of his family, and treat him as one of their own. Must have been very touching for a star of his magnitude to be welcomed by a group of people who weren’t affected by his celebrity as much as they were by their shared heritage. Sitting under his picture, enjoying the cozy and familiar bar, we had a quick spumante before continuing on our journey.
Up we went a bit farther to the summit of the mountain where there was a rustic ranch surrounded by ancient chestnut trees. This was Pian del Monte di Tiedoli and was a sort of festival house that the locals would throw parties and events at. Today however we were going to have lunch here, and a friend of Davide, master chef Mauro, was going to show us everything you could do with the porcini mushroom.
Vitello ai porcini, gnocchi ai porcini, even antipasto with fresh porcini and local salumi were all waiting to be prepared. Most importantly for me was the porcino fritto, a lightly battered fresh porcini that is fried and served hot. There is nothing more devine the putting one of these golden delights in your mouth, especially doing so on top of a mountain, in the sun, surrounded by friends new and old.
This was an exceptional day, from wandering through heaven to find porcini in the forest, to visiting ancient little towns with unique history, to a family meal up on a high peak it couldn’t have been more special. This is something that will not be forgotten.