This unique gathering brings together the country’s foremost mycological experts for four days of panels, demonstrations, foraging hikes, and of course, cooking and eating.
—Photo courtesy of Gary Lincoff
While it seems like there’s a beer or food festival just about every summer weekend on the Front Range, you should seriously consider making the trek to Telluride for the town’s annual Mushroom Festival on August 13 to 16 (early bird events begin on the 12). Now in its 35th year, this unique gathering brings together the country’s foremost mycological experts for four days of discussion panels, scientific demonstrations, foraging hikes, and of course, cooking and eating.
“It started as an educational conference, but it’s really evolved into a multi-track festival,” says executive director Maggie Klinedinst (herself a Johns Hopkins University of Medicine psilocybin researcher). The festival now offers four main tracks: mycoremediation (the use of fungi to clean up the environment), taxonomy (scientific classification), cultivation, and culinary. Here, we've rounded up the most delicious ways to celebrate the gastronomic glory of kingdom fungi at this year's festival.
1. Wild Foods Dinner with Katrina Blair
Katrina Blair is the founder of the Turtle Lake Refuge, a Durango nonprofit that’s part nature preserve, part sustainability education center, part permaculture farm, and part community cafe. Each year, Blair takes her expertise as a chef, activist, gardener, and wild foods enthusiast on the trail as she embarks on a solo hike from Durango to Telluride. During the week long trek, she collects edible seeds, leaves, berries, and mushrooms to serve at this annual dinner, resulting in dishes like wild nettle soup and raw zucchini pasta with king boletes (porcini). Diners will enjoy more than just a meaningful, healthful meal, they’ll also get a crash-course on the importance of wild foods from Blair herself. $40, Friday, August 14, 5 to 7 p.m.
Bonus: For a decidedly different dining experience, check out the gourmet mushroom dinner at fancy-schmancy bistro La Marmotte, featuring Eugenia Bone, a mushroom expert, festival keynote speaker, and the author of the Kitchen Ecosystem. $200, Thursday, August 13, 5 to 7 p.m.
2. Mushroom Cook-off
At this event, chefs will put forward their most creative (and of course, delicious) mushroom dishes for judges and attendees to taste and rank. Spectators will get a front-row seat to watch as both local and regional competitors work their culinary magic on mushrooms provided by Denver's Hunt & Gather. Last year’s competition saw innovative dishes like porcini flour pancakes with candy cap whipped cream, puffball pistachio ice cream, and a winning chanterelle custard tart from chef Dustin Smith of the New Sheridan Chop House. The cook-off is open to the public for a suggested donation of $10. Free with festival ticket, Friday, August 14, noon to 3 p.m.
3. Mushroom Forays
If you’ve ever spotted a mushroom on the forest floor and wondered if it was safe to eat, then these guided forays are for you. With expert guides like Gary Lincoff, Lawrence Millman, and Katrina Blair, the hikes provide a basic educational primer on the art of identifying edible mushrooms as well as their poisonous cousins. There are more than 300 known species of fungi in the Telluride area, and it's been a great year for rain, meaning there will be plenty of mycophilia to cover. Forays run daily, and are offered at a range of lengths, distances, and proximities to the festival. Forays are open to the public for a $25 fee. Free with festival ticket, times vary.
Bonus: Brush up on your Colorado mushrooms in advance and purchase the updated edition of Mushrooms of the Rocky Mountain Region from Vera Stucky Evenson and the Denver Botanic Gardens.
4. Telluride Brewing Company’s Mushroom Beer
Much like hunting for mushrooms, brewing beer is an exercise in patience, skill, and attention to detail. Perhaps that’s why Telluride Brewing Company and professional mycologist Tradd Cotter's mushroom-infused brews are such a natural pairing. Stop by the brewery's tasting room all weekend long, order a Whacked Out Wheat, Face Down Brown, or Redfish Ale, then get your brew doctored up with Cotter's special mushroom tincture. The blend of mushrooms is secret, but brew master Chris Fish assured us that it will add an unforgettable funky fungi flavor. The mycobeers will debut at the pre-party, and will also be served at various events throughout the festival and at the TBC tasting room. Festival pre-party Wednesday, August 12, 8 to 11 p.m.
5. Culinary Pre-Conference Workshop with Hunt & Gather
Once you can safely identify edible mushrooms in the wild, you need to learn how to transform them into delicious meals in your kitchen. At this class, Nick Martinez and Graham Steinruck—the duo behind Hunt & Gather, a specialty food distribution company that provides wild-foraged ingredients to many of Denver’s top restaurants—will lead attendees through the basics of wild mushroom cookery. The duo (who have cooked at Denver spots like ChoLon, Mizuna, and Pizza Republica) will cover everything from cleaning your haul to drying techniques to pickling the fungi at the beginner class, then delve into more complicated recipes in the advanced session. $125, Beginner class Wednesday, August 12, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Advanced class Wednesday, August 12, 2 to 5 p.m.
Hungry yet? Click here to purchase tickets ($275) and to find out more information on the Telluride Mushroom Festival's diverse offerings (which include everything from truffle dog training to a slime mold documentary to panels on shamanism and psilocybin research).