Aylin Öney TAN - [email protected]
I froze for a moment. The sheer beauty I saw in front of my eyes struck me.
A luscious fruity red glaze with speckles of cream drops. So I imagined!
I took a few snapshots. Then I ruthlessly uprooted my hunt: The notorious Amanita muscaria, known for its hallucinogenic and even deadly poisonous properties. Its lethal cousin Amanita phalloides, is also abundant in the forest; named in Turkish as Köygöçüren, simply meaning “the one that wipes out a village”.
I remember saying to myself: Here is a taste I’ll never know about!
This happened last September, while visiting the forests of Kastamonu with an environmentalist, food-lovers group to support a mushroom project.
Mushrooms are lovable. Their taste, their miraculous existence in the woods and their pretty but delicate appearance add to their mysterious appeal. However, a safe and sustainable way of mushroom hunting still remains rare in this country.
The Jonestown effect of Köygöçüren is a seasonal newspaper item here. Wild mushrooms are picked, cooked and eaten widely in Turkey, but a high cuisine regarding mushrooms does not exist. Mushroom picking has always been a rural foraging habit, never making its way to the high tables of the Ottoman court. This is rather awkward, given the fact that highly praised mushrooms like morels, porcinis, chanterelles and matsutakes are abundant in the woods of Turkey. Funnily, all these are seldom regarded as delicacies, being usually left to the appreciation of wild boars and dogs. Küre Mountains
The precious porcini is referred to as Ayı Mantarı in Kastamonu, simply meaning “mushroom for the bears.” One recent project is aimed at turning this the other way round. The World Wildlife Foundation is sponsoring a mushroom project, targeted at creating income for mountain villages in the Küre Mountains, a remote alpine forest area north west of Kastamonu, close to the Black Sea. The area, listed as a national park and recognized by Protected Area Network (PAN) Parks, is truly an undiscovered gem and a heaven for trekkers, cyclists or any nature lovers. Now, the picturesque villages can become a destination for mushroom lovers as well.
İsmail Menteş, the regional director from the Ministry of Forest and Water Management, is also the head of the project titled “Capped Mystery of the Küre Mountains: Mushrooms.” Menteş became a
Terra Madre delegate in Torino last October. He is also a member of Slow Food Ankara
Convivium, a volunteer group supporting the project. Menteş initiated the Ecotourism Development Cooperative, advocating sustainable ways of income for the mountain villagers. Mushroom picking seems to be a serious potential source of income for the region, provided it is done safely. Jilber Barutçiyan, a certified mycologist, is the consultant of the project, documenting the edible mushrooms of the region and teaching the villagers the safe and correct way of collecting mushrooms. The Slow Food Ankara
group is trying to link the gatherers to potential buyers like restaurants, frozen food manufacturers and even a big chain like the Metro Cash&Carry. Many chefs are simply drooling at the thought of baskets full of porcinis and chanterelles of the region.
A love of mushrooms, after all, needs not be lethal. On the contrary, it can prove to be the sole source of livelihood for otherwise hopeless villagers in this remote mountainous area, mushrooming hopes for the future.
Bite of the week
Fork of the Week
Mushroom filled Georgian dumplings, Mantarlı Hınkal, in Changa-Taksim are phenomenal, so are the porcini raviolis of Baylan Restaurant in Bebek. Chef Tim Brigg transferred to Baylan from the kitchen of Alain Ducasse makes raviolis that surpass all other rivals in Istanbul.
Cork of the Week
Mushrooms deserve a good earthy pick. For those who prefer white, a woody oaked Chardonnay
would be appropriate, my pick being Kayra Vintage-Chardonnay Sur Lie, 2011; for red lovers, a delicious forestry one would be Kayra Versus-Shiraz Viognier, 2010; both created by winemaker Daniel O’Donnell for Kayra.