By Deborah Luhrman
Photgraphy by Bradley Dunbaugh
A lack of winter rain has left members of the Santa Cruz Fungus Federation scrambling to put together the enormous display of fresh mushroom varieties at the heart of their annual Fungus Fair, opening tonight, Friday Jan. 13, and running through Sunday Jan. 15 at the Louden Nelson Center.
But no matter how many mushroom varieties are featured at this year’s event, the Fungus Fair, now in its 38th year, is a must for fungi-philes and amateur mushroom hunters, as well as foodies—everyone is guaranteed to learn something and have a lot of fun in the process.
Over the unseasonably sunny past week, the Federation’s foragers scoured every meadow and forest in the Monterey Bay area, searching up and down steep canyons, under downed branches, and even sent foray parties north to Mendocino to find the most species possible for the display—which generally includes hundreds of varieties of mushrooms identified and arrayed in their natural habitats.
In addition to the mushroom ID room, there are cooking demonstrations with tastings afterwards and technical lectures, such as the session on Medicinal Mushrooms and Zen and the Art of Mushroom Hunting.
Chef Jozseph Shultz of India Joze will preside on Sunday, while the cooking demo on Saturday features winemaker Eric Baugher of Ridge Vineyards and Chef Todd Spanier, whose business, King of Mushrooms, does a thriving business supplying foraged foods to Bay Area restaurants.
Another mushroom celebrity, mycologist David Arora, speaks on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. He is author of the encyclopedic guide Mushrooms Demystified and it’s always a treat to hear his amusing stories about foraging for nature’s most unusual fungi.
Kids have their own special room at the Fungus Fair, where they can learn and create mushroom masterpieces. While everything fungus-related is on sale in the vendor rooms—pick out some mushroom jewelry, try mushroom infused olive oil and gelato, and if that leaves you wanting still more take home a do-it-yourself mushroom growing kit from Far West Fungi in Moss Landing.
Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors (over 60). Kids 12 and under are free. Louden Nelson Center is located at 301 Center St., Santa Cruz.
For more on mushroom foraging, other special mushroom events and classes here on the Central Coast, as well as mushroom recipes from local chefs, check out The Cult of the Wild Mushroom in the winter issue of Edible Monterey Bay: http://www.ediblecommunities.com/montereybay/online-magazine/winter-2011/winter-foraging.htm.