We The Italians | Italian flavors: Borgotaro Mushroom

Italian flavors: Borgotaro Mushroom

Italian flavors: Borgotaro Mushroom

  • WTI Magazine #108 Oct 20, 2018
  • 145

In the area of Valtaro and Valmagra, mushroom picking is a custom that has been passed on for many centuries. Borgo Val di Taro and its valleys became famous all over the world for their porcino mushroom in the late nineteenth century, when many emigrants took this product with them and word spread on the other side of the Atlantic. 

This was how the ‘Fungo di Borgotaro IGP’ (Protected Geographical Indication) gained its reputation, earning the nickname in common parlance and on the market of the most valuable fungus. 

The product was mainly commercialised in Borgotaro, which established itself as a centre for trade at the beginning of the twentieth century thanks to the presence of the railway from 1894 onwards and the market regulated by the municipality.

In order to cope with the indiscriminate invasion of the forests (with the consequent destruction of the fungus-plant ecosystem), the ‘Comunalie’ (regions making up a collective) that represent the greatest forested property for fungus harvesting in the district instituted special reserves for mushroom picking from the 1960s onwards. 

Pickers began to respect some fundamental rules, such as closing days, maximum picking limits and payments for membership cards (which is reinvested in forest heritage improvement works). 

The Borgotaro Mushroom IGP was recognised in relatively recent times - the Protected Geographical Indication was granted in the 1990s, which was also the period in which the Protection Consortium to guarantee and promote the porcino mushroom was formed.

The Product

Borgotaro Mushroom IGP is the only fungus in Europe to have obtained Protected Geographical Indication and it consists of the sporocarp (also known as the fruit body) of four species of Boletus (B. edulis, B. aestivalis, B. pinophilus and B. aereus) in its fresh state.

Borgotaro Mushroom IGP is considered superior to other mushrooms originating from other parts of Italy and the rest of the world in terms of its organoleptic, olfactory and aromatic qualities. It has compact white flesh with a sweet, delicate and aromatic flavour with a hint of nuttiness. It is not spicy and has no inflections of hay, liquorice or fresh wood. The product is sent to the market in wooden containers with low sides to which a fine small net is attached with a sealed band.

Production

As is self-evident, the mushroom is very different from other typical produce because though it falls into the category of fruit and vegetables it is not cultivated in the classic sense of the term. 

An expression often used to describe it is: “a wild product helped by man”. This means that while the mushroom is not cultivated its growth is nevertheless closely linked to climatic and micro-climatic conditions that can partially be influenced by man through silvicultural measures that are planned throughout the region according to the fungus in question. 

In fact, though it is clearly not possible to influence the wind or rain, steps can be taken at a micro-climatic level (humidity, ground temperature, soil evaporation) through multi-functional and eco-sustainable forestry management, which ensures greater mushroom production.

The hunt for and gathering of the fungus usually takes place from June to October. This part is done by pickers who have registered in order to carry out the picking activities. 

The product is then handed over to the packers, the people authorised to use the protected designation, who select only the best porcini that meet the characteristics stipulated by the product specification, then package them in the prescribed manner.

The Local Area

Borgotaro Mushroom IGP is produced in the forests of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, in the municipalities of Albareto and Borgo Val di Taro in the province of Parma, and Pontremoli in the province of Massa and Carrara.

The characteristic woodland features of the IGP zone are typical of the Apennine Mountains, with oak and chestnut woods at the lower altitudes and beach forests and conifers higher up. 

The form of management used in the district involves the coppicing of saplings using experimental methods such as cutting in stripes or checkerboard patterns. In addition to encouraging the biodiversity and multi-functionality of the woods, the forestry management creates the microclimate suitable for the fructification of porcini.

Consorzio del Fungo di Borgotaro