Now, you can be an explorer and go hunting by yourself for wild mushrooms in Tasmania
Set out on a Foraging Tour looking for wild mushrooms on your next trip Down Under
It’s a cold autumn day as we walk through the pine forest near the Seven-mile Beach in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia’s island state, carrying wicker baskets and a special French mushroom knife with a brush on the other end. We look down under our feet as instructed, listening to the shrill sounds of black cockatoos and kookaburra overhead. We are on a foraging tour with our tall and sprightly guide Mic Giuliani of Sirocco South Foraging Tours, looking for wild mushrooms. He learned this from his Italian grandparents, and when his parents moved to Victoria to a farm, they continued the tradition.
“Most of the mushrooms that we are collecting are non-native, and came down with the pine trees from Europe and America when Australia was colonised,” he explains. He teaches us to look for shrumps—mushroom humps in grass or leaf litter—because usually there is a mushroom below it. The first mushroom that we come across is the almost ugly Slippery Jack. This one is edible and has a slimy brown cap.
Giuliani teaches us not to pull the mushroom out but just cut it on the stem (as otherwise, they will not regrow) and then brush away the dirt. “Always flip the mushroom over because if they are infested with millipedes then it’s useless,” he says. “The important rule in mushroom foraging is if you are in any doubt as to the species, just throw it out. Remember, every mushroom is edible at least once,” he cautions. “You should go with someone who has eaten these mushrooms before,” he adds. Many mushrooms are deadly and can kill you, others can make you sick. It’s a good idea to cook edible mushrooms.
Mushrooms love damp, humid conditions, and he tells us to look around tree trunks and on downed stumps. Mushrooms grow very fast if they have the right conditions—they can even pop up overnight. “For a long time, mushrooms were considered poor people’s food, and people missed out on so much delicious and nutritious food,” says Giuliani. He explains the symbiotic relationship that mushrooms and trees share—below the ground there is a massive hidden network of threads called mycelium, that have a symbiotic relationship with the trees, extracting the nitrogen and phosphorous that the trees use. After some time, we are all absorbed in foraging, dropping our finds with childlike excitement into our baskets.
We find Grey Knight Mushrooms with gills underneath that are edible, and Saffron Milk Caps that are carrot orange in colour. Many of the fungi are also food for the mammals like the marsupials. Below our feet are green clumps of a succulent ground creeper, called Pig’s face, with daisy-like flowers, whose red fruits are eaten by many animals like wallabies.
Giuliani suddenly goes off the track and shows us a plant—the Tasmanian Flax Lily—that was used by the indigenous people to make nets, baskets and strings. In spring they have the most brilliant blue flowers and blue-purple berries. Zillions of pine cones lie littered under our feet, as we see clumps of Sagg grass—these used to be powdered into flour and made into cakes by the aborigines. He tells us about the Ghost Mushrooms that glow in the dark and are usually found in clusters, on dead or dying trees. “Don’t eat them, they are highly toxic,” he warns.
If there are excess mushrooms collected, they can be dehydrated and made into a powder and used in soups and stews or made into a pate that can be a tasty spread for bread. At the end of the walk, our baskets overflowing with mushrooms and greens, we arrive at tables decked with bright yellow placemats, alongside a food trailer and some stoves and tents set up by Giuliani’s team.
He serves up a six-course lunch, sauteing mushrooms and grilling wallabies, pairing it with local Bream Creek red and white wines—from pickled bell spinach to a mushroom pate, a weed pie with mushrooms and greens. Mushroom tours are not only the foraging tours that Giuliani does. It could be anything seasonal from wild asparagus and greens to diving for abalone and sea urchins on the coast. “What I try to do is give my guests a feel of the outdoors and a taste of Tasmania,” he says.
Know your mushrooms
Slippery Jack: Also called sticky bun, it has a slimy brown cap. It is most commonly used in soups and stews.
Grey Knight: This grey-capped mushroom is a member of the Knight family. It has a mild taste and is seen commonly in the markets in France.
Saffron Milk Caps: This is an edible mushroom that could be both mild or bitter and is most liberally found in the Iberian Peninsula.
The Ghost: These glow in the dark and are usually found in clusters, on dead or dying trees. They are highly toxic.
WHEN & WHERE
GETTING THERE: Fly to Sydney and connect to Hobart
TOUR: Mic’s Sirocco South Foraging tours are through the year
COST: Approx. 300 AUD per person
BUY: Local cheeses, wines and indigenous art