Mushroom picking is almost considered as a national sport in Val Trebbia. Beyond the pleasure of walking through the woods while looking for the precious brown mushrooms (porcini) you should be aware of some dangers too. Carlo Costa, born in the province of Pavia, shared his 30-year-long experience of looking for mushrooms in the woods around Rovegno.
What do you like in particular about mushroom picking?
Surely the symbiotic relationship with nature, the feeling of being one with the woods. This happens especially in the early morning, just before sunrise, when the silence is broken only by the sound of the animals waking up.
Do you think the interest towards mushroom picking increased during the years and do you think the woods are more crowded now?
Yes, in the past years the number of people roaming the woods to collect mushrooms has surely increased a lot. This created an unacceptable level of environmental pollution and the relativa change in the location where mushrooms used to grow. Furthermore, as the local population decreases, with people moving to cities, nobody is taking care of the maintenance of the woods: nobody is cutting down old trees and this leads to an uncontrolled growth of the vegetation, which is intensified also due to the lack of cattle.
What is the best moment of the day and what are the best periods of the year for mushroom picking?
Early morning is surely the best moment of the day when, preferibly after a long night with full moon, it is easier to find mushrooms also because not many people visit the woods that early. Talking about the real process behind mushroom picking, it is really important to try and guess which are the right woods to visit on the base of which season you are in and the humidity of the air.
About the best seasons, as of the end of May the first porcini (called “porcini della brina” o “del freddo”) can be found if the weather allows it. Then, around mid-June you can find the most precious and delicious porcini especially in the woods populated by chestnut trees. Finally from September well into November you can find all the different sorts of porcini in sessil oak and turkey oak tree-woods but also more generally in all other kinds of woods. In any case it is extremely important to remember where you found the mushrooms because they tend to grow in the same place during the following seasons.
Do you ever have any difficulties to tell an edible mushroom from a poisonous one after so many years of experience in the field?
Telling edible mushrooms from poisonous ones is not easy and you would need a sound knowledge of all the different types. The best thing to do is to pick only those you are absolutely certain about and leave no room to doubts.
Do you think mushroom picking can lead to a further apreciation or exploitation of the local environment?
I think that unfortunately the lack of respect towards the environment is caused by people not having any sense of civil society and not respecting the most basic rules to live together. It is very sad to increasingly see rubbish piling up in the woods, something I notice a lot, and realise the environment is being damaged more and more. This will eventually cause its complete deterioration.
What was the oddest thing you saw while in the woods?
Surely the time I found myself sorrounded by a group of adult wild boars, but there were no consequences to this encounter: they did not pay any attention to me and their complete indifference really surprised me. Luckily there were no piglets with them otherwise things would have been quite different.
What advice would you give to people going mushroom picking for the first time?
The biggest danger is getting lost, losing your orientation, so the most important piece of advice is to keep calm and look out for some clear orientation references in order to find your way back. Vipers are another danger so it is essential to make sure there are none around before putting your hands on the ground to pick a mushroom. Always be careful and use a stick to check that the area is safe.
What are your favourite places and why?
The area I prefer for my “research” is the one of the woods around Rovegno and Pietranera: it’s the area I know best and I feel safest in, which is essential to spend a day in complete relax. Nothing is as relaxing as a good walk on an early morning in summer immersed in the peace and silence of the woods, far from the traffic of cities’ streets, in complete immersion with nature.