Mushroom Hunting in Catalunya

🕔 5 mins (total)
A variety of bolets freshly picked from an autumn forest in Catalunya
A variety of bolets freshly picked from an autumn forest in Catalunya

Once the autumn rains begin to fall (see what we did there?!), there is a well-established tradition in many parts of Spain, especially in Catalunya, of heading for the hills and hunting for mushrooms.

And yes, it’s hunting!

The locals don’t call it picking, gathering, or foraging for wild mushrooms, they call it hunting – unless maybe they’re referring to the likes of us blow-ins who don’t really know what we’re doing. While in English, we might in some contexts use the verb “hunt” to mean “searching for” or “looking for” as well as for “to pursue and capture”, in both Catalan and Spanish, they specifically use their verb for “to hunt” (caçar / cazar) as in the latter sense when they are talking about searching for wild mushrooms in the woods.

Be thankful for that rain!

The Pyrenees and their foothills here in Girona Province are some of the best places to go hunting for mushrooms. It won’t have escaped your attention that we usually get a fair bit of rain here in autumn, and while this may not exactly delight holidaymakers, the bright side is that autumn rains mean a bumper season for bolets, as they’re called in Catalan. In Castellano-Spanish, they’re known as setas or champiñones, and in French: champignons.

Of course, that’s not to say that it’s just a question of wandering up into the nearest hills and picking – sorry, hunting – all around you. As we mentioned, the Catalan word for mushroom is bolet, and those brave and fearless hunters of bolets are called boletaires. Their skills are handed down from one generation to the next. In olden times people used to pick bolets in the hills and mountains to sell in markets down in the towns, and this was economically important for a lot of rural families.

Nowadays, it is more of a pastime or just a pleasant way to occasionally spend a nice autumn afternoon with Mother Nature in the great outdoors, but genuine boletaires, for whom it is much more than a hobby, will still have their own established favourite areas for hunting their bolets, and these are usually kept as closely guarded secrets. If you can convince a regular boletaire to bring you along on a “hunt” with them, you’ll have a much better chance of a successful harvest – or should that be “kill”?!

Mind the Death Cap!

There’s another fairly obvious and very good reason to bring a qualified expert along, too… and no doubt you can guess what that is! There are, of course, many different varieties of mushrooms, and not all are edible. Some are even poisonous and can land you in the hospital pretty quickly should you consume them. One of these is called the “Death Cap”, but in the forest, it doesn’t come with a name tag, naturally! There have been a number of fatalities over the years, although this is quite rare. Skilled boletaires, of course, can tell the different species apart and know which ones to leave well enough alone.

A poisonous “Death Cap” (Amanita phalloides) in a Catalan forest
A poisonous “Death Cap” (Amanita phalloides) in a Catalan forest

The popularity of hunting for bolets has grown massively over the last decade or so, and not everyone foraging in the hills these days is a boletaire. With so many amateurs joining the hunt, the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan government) has even created a webpage with information on which varieties are edible and which ones are poisonous.

This webpage is in Catalan, Spanish, and Occitan Aranès – pretty much all the languages spoken this side of the border in the eastern Pyrenees – as well as in English. They’re certainly covering all their bases and taking no chances there! The website even debunks a couple of myths around methods of differentiating the edible from the toxic and includes some tips on how to correctly gather your bolets.

Foragers are encouraged to use wicker baskets rather than plastic bags as this allows the mushroom spores to be released back into the forest to repopulate and also prevents fermentation. The explosion in popularity of bolet foraging (not hunting, mind, because we’re talking about amateurs here!) largely stemmed from a TV show called Caçadors de Bolets that first aired on the Catalan language station TV3 in 2004 and ran until 2013. You guessed it; that title translates as “Mushroom Hunters”!

So get off that sofa and out into the fresh air!

The “prey” aside, the reason why this activity has become so popular is that it allows folk to get out and reconnect with Mother Earth in the beautiful countryside we have all around us here in this green and luscious Province of Girona. Anyway, you’d need to find a fair amount of those tasty bolets to make yourself a decent dish, so just enjoy the day and don’t worry about the hunting too much and leave that to the real boletaires.

The town of Llagostera even has a Fira del Bolet (Mushroom Fair) every October with show-cooking, special menus in participating restaurants, games and other activities for kids, and a “Concurs de Caçar Bolets” (Mushroom Hunting Competition)! We left that last one in the original Catalan, just in case you didn’t believe us before about bolets being “hunted” here rather than just picked! It’s a real thing!

Here’s a link to this year’s (2023) programme of events, with special menus on offer from the 6th to the 29th of October in seven participating restaurants, and the other aforementioned events taking place on certain days within that period. Llagostera is the perfect spot for it, too, being located as it is in an area surrounded by pretty heavily forested hills.

Besides all that, there are plenty of restaurants around the area that will have seasonally ‘mushroomy’ dishes on their menus so you can just get out and enjoy the fresh air and the smell of the forest and, once you’ve worked up an appetite, come down outta ‘them thar hills’ and head for somewhere like this lovely place:

  • L’Arcada; Palamós
    The menu here changes regularly according to what ingredients are in season.

Incidentally, bolet season coincides with the start of wild boar hunting season. Wild boar and bolets stew certainly makes for a hearty winter dinner, and this particular restaurant has a hunting menu from late October or November through March that is just delicious:

We know because we’ve tried it, and it was great! And not expensive either.

Recipes

If you’d like to try rustling up a tasty meal with your freshly picked mushrooms, how about giving this pretty simple recipe a go:

Mushrooms and pumpkin with bacon and rice

The famous local Arròs de Pals (Pals Rice) is also harvested in autumn, and pumpkins are in season here at the same time of year, too, so why not try and prepare your dish with all “KM0” locally sourced ingredients? While you’re at it, it’s probably a good idea to stock up on some local red wine too!

Happy hunting, and bon profit!

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