Jordan Wine Country Table - Vol. 15, 2020 - 31

WILD ABOUT
MUSHROOMS
WHEN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CHEFS CAN'T HUNT FOR LOCAL
FUNGI THEMSELVES, THEY TURN TO THIS FEMALE FORAGER
T
odd Knoll, executive chef at Jordan Winery, is an avid
mushroom hunter, but his busy schedule in the kitchen
can sometimes keep him from getting out into the
woods to forage. That's when he calls Connie Green
at Wine Forest Wild Foods. Known as The Mushroom
Lady since 1981, Green combs her favorite locations in Sonoma,
Napa and as far as Mexico for edible treasures.
" Connie was a pioneer, delivering foraged mushrooms to chefs and
convincing them that our mushrooms are much the same as their
European counterparts, " Knoll says, " and now she has a network
of foragers bringing the wild to celebrated restaurants like The
French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood in the Napa
Valley and Boulevard in San Francisco. Connie also has written
a wonderful cookbook called The Wild Table, and many of her
products are available for purchase, including her award-winning
shrubs, dried wild mushrooms, truffles and other ingredients
I cannot cook without. "
Green grew up foraging for wild blackberries, grapes and sassafras
on her grandparents' farm in the Florida Panhandle. Her late
husband came from a long line of mushroom foragers, and through
him, Green's knowledge of the tradition expanded. The couple
moved to the Napa Valley in the late 1970s and brought along
their passion for foraging. Gradually, it turned into a business.
Like any expert mushroom hunter, Green won't reveal her foraging
locations, other than to say that her hunting ground includes the
hills of Napa, along with the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts.
When searching for fungi, she looks for certain types of trees that
are associated with culinary mushrooms.
" Different mushrooms have one particular type of tree that they like
and they exist in a sort of marriage, " she says. " Here in Northern
California, up towards Willits and all along the coast, we have a lot
of tan oak trees. Black trumpets and matsutakes love them. "
Learning to identify mushrooms in the wild is a matter of repetition
and familiarity. " You learn one mushroom really, really well, and
then you learn another, " Green says. " We have the weird blessing
that a lot of the greatest, most delicious edibles are some of
the easiest to identify. Chanterelles, black trumpets, yellow feet,
hedgehogs, morels-nothing looks quite like them. "
Another distinctive mushroom is a large, lacy white variety called
the cauliflower mushroom. " They're not common, but they can
be very large and they'll grow back in the same place for many
years, " Green says. As delicate as they look, she adds, they have a
satisfying, cabbage-like crunch.
Knoll uses cauliflower mushrooms in soups, sometimes as a
replacement for noodles. " First I sauté them a little in a pan,
caramelized until the edges are golden brown and just cooked
through, then add a splash of sake to deglaze them, " he says.
" They're a very mild mushroom-more about texture than
flavor-so they take on the taste of whatever you're cooking
them in. "
Green also introduced Knoll to bright orange cordyceps
mushrooms. Knoll compares their flavor to that of a chanterelle,
with a little bit of a fruity character. When cooking cordyceps, he
quickly sautés them so they will maintain their texture, color and
bite. " It's almost like cooking gnocchi, " he says. " You want them
just to the perfect point of doneness, as with properly cooked
pasta or haricots verts, for example. "
Knoll recently included both cordyceps and cauliflower mushrooms
in a luscious mushroom bisque, alongside morels and porcini.
He prepared each type of mushroom separately, then composed
an array in the bottom of each bowl before surrounding the fungi
with the velvety mushroom soup. Finally, the soup was topped
with rosemary leaves, shaved black truffles and truffle salt.
" I sautéed the cordyceps in olive oil and a touch of aged sherry
vinegar and fresh lemon for brightening and balance, " he says.
" I try to make each bite a varying combination of acids, flavors and
textures. This showcases the versatility of our wines, elevating the
pairing experience. "
Because Green often can't predict more than a week in advance
which mushrooms will be available at any given time, Knoll must
be creative and spontaneous in the kitchen.
" One of the things I love about Connie is that she won't sell you
anything until it's ready, and while there's no guarantee with wild
foods, she always has an informed alternative for me, " Knoll says.
" Connie never disappoints. "
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Jordan Wine Country Table - Vol. 15, 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Jordan Wine Country Table - Vol. 15, 2020

Table of Contents
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